Has your self-esteem taken a knock throughout the pandemic? Perhaps you feel differently about your place in the world now. Or are you desperate for life to return to its usual busy social pace? Psychotherapist Noel McDermott believes the slow but steady opening up of society from the pandemic is more than a sensible public health strategy to combat the pandemic; it’s also a sensible psychological health plan. There will be a tendency to want to go for it when we are free again, but our emotions may not be in sync with that thinking. Now’s the time to slowly ease back into things – think about this as your rehabilitation time as life returns to its faster pace.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: ‘Easy does it is the order of the day. When we had to enter lockdown this time last year, we all experienced a shocking transition. As complex social animals, we measure our psychological well-being based on the stability of certain core life experiences – home, love relationships, work – these being the three big ones. When any one of these central life circumstances changes, even if the change is for the better, we can feel uncomfortable or distressed.’
Be kind to yourself
We didn’t have the opportunity to be kind to ourselves when we had to lockdown from the pandemic last year, but in this opening up we can be and we can be kind to others. We have all been through a very challenging time, which has been frightening and confusing. We’ve been asked to do things none of us could have imagined and for many, at times, it seemed very unreal. Part of that sense of unreality was due to the uniqueness of the experience, but also it was due to being in a traumatic reality and having to manage the overwhelm. As we move into a reality that is healthier for us, we can be thoughtful about moving into it in a way that is kind to ourselves and allows us to adjust at a manageable pace.
Advice, as we transition, on how to make things easier and more pleasant
- Easy does it is the mantra.
- Take things a step at a time.
- Keep it human-sized.
- List those things you miss that you love to do.
- Keep it slow.
- Accept you’re tired and rest to avoid overwhelm.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott advises: ‘It’s best to imagine, at this time, that we have just been discharged from hospital after a long illness. It will take time to adjust to being “outside” and being able to manage new sources of stimulation. Let yourself off the hook about having to do things and get things done. Think about this as your rehabilitation time.’
Self-love activities to kick-start your summer
- Make ‘you’ time – learn to put time aside every day for yourself, if it’s taking a bath, going out for a coffee, or simply lighting a candle – do something for yourself that offers you some time off.
- Exercise regularly – exercise can help reduce cortisol and increase endorphins that, in the long run, help. Being outside in fresh air and greenery also helps.
- Laugh lots – find ways that release oxytocin, which is another hormone that, if stimulated, increases our dopamine and serotonin, making us feel better. Laughter, smiling, having a hug are examples of ways to stimulate this.
- Kindness – be kind to yourself and others, let go of what you can’t control, practice being present in the moment, and trust the future will be okay.
- Start a diary – whether it is about what’s happening in your day-to-day life or a list of things that you’re grateful for, put that pen to paper and write.
- Do some de-cluttering – whether it be in your headspace or physically, the act of cleaning produces a sense of clarity and calm.
- Take a tech time out – have a break from technology every day, and spend more time in the real world re-connecting with friends and family.
- Priorities – learn to say no.
This summer we need to keep it simple and focus on how we rebuild our energy and motivation for embracing life again. We need time to come to terms with what has happened over this last year and how things have changed and how they have stayed the same. By being kind and gentle we will heal, as we need to, without causing injury. We can also support our loved ones in this and plan events that allow us to gently reconnect with those we love. One of the gifts we have received this year and one we have to hold onto is reducing our expectations of ourselves. The pandemic asked us to focus on those things that were important to us and to protect them. As we exit it, that lesson should be carried with us. So, for this summer, let go of expectations of what you should be doing and embrace what it is you authentically want to do.
Noel McDermott is a psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education, with a range of online therapy resources to help clients.