Let’s face it, it’s been a difficult couple of months for a multitude of reasons. People are struggling with staying in their present moment because the present moment comes with its difficulties and stressors. As a result, people might spend a lot of their time in their past or future worlds, and are possibly living on autopilot the rest of the time. Contemplating what has already happened leads to thoughts about past regret, shame, guilt or failure. A focus on what has yet to happen keeps people in a cycle of worry, and concern over the unknowns.
During this current health pandemic, it is safe to say that people have been thinking a lot about their life from the past (i.e., pre-pandemic) and how much they are missing the “normalcy” of life from before. Others are worried about what the future holds and the unknowns of what will happen once the pandemic is over (i.e., post-pandemic).
When people get into a habit of focusing on pre-pandemic and post-pandemic worlds, it prevents them from putting their time, attention, and energy into what is going on for them now (a.k.a. the present moment). This is not to say that what is going on around them in the present moment is necessarily positive or where they might want to be. But focusing on the present moment is the only thing that people actually have control over, and focusing on what is in front of them might be a better use of time.
This also brings to light the purpose of living in the past or worrying about the future. During the past few months, people have been experiencing a desire to return to their life pre-pandemic. The comfort and familiarity of what life was like is like a safety blanket that people hold onto because it is a representation of how different life looked back then.
But, have people asked themselves, “Why focus on a past that may not have been that great to begin with?” People are focusing on getting back to a sense of normalcy without even evaluating if that normalcy is how they actually want their lives to be. Why not instead think about a new normal that is more positive than the past and one without worry?
The health pandemic has really shined a light on all of the things that perhaps weren’t that great to begin with. Let’s take a look at the things from our past “normal life” that we can think about changing for our future.
Creating a "New Normal"
We cannot necessarily predict what the future will hold post-pandemic, but we can hope for better outcomes. It’s important to spend less time trying to return to a life that maybe wasn’t that great to begin with and think about the possibilities of the future. Here are some ideas for what life can look like post-pandemic:
1. What Happened:
Racism: Prior to the pandemic, there was a lot of hate, violence, inequality and racism. The reality is, there is still a lot of that going on, but lately, we are noticing a shift in response to institutionalized racism. Of course, the pandemic itself did not have a direct impact on making recent changes, but having a desire to return to life as it was means returning to a life where these racial injustice issues were destroying people’s lives. A return to normalcy means taking so many steps backward to what was; the recent Black Lives Matter movement is all about progressing forward, not returning to what was.
What to Focus on Moving Ahead:
People Speaking Up! People are becoming more and more vocal in their discussions about institutionalized racism and other social injustice issues. As people start to have real conversations about no longer tolerating injustice in our society, there will hopefully be more positive changes regarding social injustice issues.
2. What Happened:
Health Concerns: Before the pandemic, were you diligent about washing your hands regularly and taking care of your health? A return to a pre-pandemic world possibly means getting sick more regularly, people being less mindful of their environments, a return to dirty surfaces, and a busy lifestyle that prevents people from prioritizing their health. Returning to pre-pandemic life means people not washing their hands, or being mindful of themselves or others when they are sick.
What to Focus on Moving Ahead:
Improvements in Health Behaviors: Instead of focusing on some of the difficulties of this health pandemic, perhaps people can change their mindset to a focus on lessons learned from the pandemic. People are becoming more conscious of washing their hands, being mindful of not touching their faces, wearing masks and staying home when sick. It could be helpful to think about what positive behaviors you have learned and started to apply in your life as a result of the pandemic. If we could all arrive at a place post-pandemic where people are more mindful about the spread of viruses and disease, wouldn’t that be a much better place to be?
3. What Happened:
Poor Work-Life Balance: Remember that commute to work or school? Remember how much you disliked that commute? People have forgotten how much they drove in the past and are longing for a long car ride where they can get back to their audiobooks or podcasts or possibly just getting away from their family. But that long commute took up your time away from other life’s enjoyable activities. Perhaps you did not have a long commute, but you were working long hours and seemingly at your job site all the time. It is likely that the investment and commitment into work was preventing you from establishing a positive work-life balance with other activities and important behaviors that are important for your physical and mental health (i.e., socializing, staying active, developing hobbies, etc.). Consider how work life took up much of your time in the past and how some of the effective habits developed during this time can be continued moving forward.
What to Focus on Moving Ahead:
Achieving Work-Life Balance: Trying to achieve work-life balance is a constant work in progress. At times, people find success and other times, it feels too overwhelming. However, ask yourself if there are any improvements that have been made since the pandemic that you can continue to carry with you post-pandemic? Working toward work-life balance and continuing to incorporate the self-care behaviors that you have learned over the pandemic (i.e., spending time with family, cooking, baking, gardening, being active, etc.) could be a positive outcome of this pandemic and possibly, your “new normal.”
4. What Happened:
Societal Expectations Leading Behaviors: Pre-pandemic, people were busy with lots of activities that were oftentimes expectations of society. These may have also been symbols of a certain social status such as the type of car you drive when you pick up your children from school, or keeping up with the expenses of social events, or even competition with others at the workplace for who stayed the latest and worked the most hours. The pandemic has provided more of a level playing field and some of these expectations may not be as crucial as you once thought. Consider if you might be better off now while not having to deal with some of these expectations.
What to Focus on Moving Ahead:
Set Your Own Expectations: You can choose to return to a world led by societal expectations, or you can set your own expectations about how you live your life. Approach your life with mindfulness about what you truly want and understanding your priorities and values. If those values don’t match with societal standards or what other people think you should be doing, ask yourself, are you okay with that? Are you open to living your life led by the things that are most important to you?
We are all different people with varied life experiences and you may have had a drastically different experience than what is being described here during the pandemic, but consider this article as a way of maintaining a positive perspective about the changes in your life. Identify what was not so helpful in your pre-pandemic life, and what has been a positive outcome for you during the pandemic. Allow yourself to assess whether or not that is something that you want to return back to for the sake of normalcy or if you can see yourself making changes post-pandemic.
There is still a lot for us to learn from this pandemic and all of the changes that are waiting to happen. If you are able to approach your life with openness to what those things might be, you might find a sense of inner peace. You won’t spend your time trying to figure out what the future holds, but rather an understanding that there are likely things in your future right now that you cannot possibly know or control. Learning to be okay with that could bring a lot of relief into an already stressful situation.
If you are interested in learning more about how therapy can assist in focusing on the positive changes this time, feel free to reach out to one of our therapists at Couch Conversations Psychotherapy and Counseling, Inc. Fill out our “Contact Us” form below and we will get in touch with you.