Why am I so lazy? I feel like a bad friend. I just don’t have it in me today. How are they seeing this many people? I use to do this every weekend. Why is it so hard now?
In general, us humans are fairly predictable. Our schedules might change between school and uni, full time work to full-time mum, senior management to senior concession, but they’re fairly stable. That’s what made the beginning of lockdown so hard, why we missed our friends and family and our normal comings and goings. Yet during lockdown, a lot of us adjusted, and these lockdown schedules became our new normal. But then the world opened up, and suddenly our calendars became heavy with obligations, expectations, and occasions. For those that aren’t vaccinated, December 15 was the start of this process. With everyone coming out of lockdown, the world feels even more overwhelming. Like skipping the gym for 4 months straight, confronting our old normal is likely to feel inconvenient and effortful. And in many ways, this is our body reacting normally. Yet this normal response can be quite unhelpful.
Dr Julie Smith, a clinical psychologist, provides us with some insight into this process. “When you do something that is new and different, your brain is set up to give you a little spike in stress” as the amygdala takes over. It’s our brains unconsciously shifting into survival mode, alerting us to say ‘hey, we haven’t done this sort of thing recently, be careful, stay vigilant, it could be dangerous.’ Using the survival mode part our brain is tiring. In this post lockdown world, even seeing close friends and family can lead to the next day being a write-off. It can feel overwhelming, even if it is also enjoyable.
Another factor is the relationship between action and energy. For most, the lockdown meant less social and physical exercise, lowering our baseline mood and effort levels. This causes our brains and bodies to adjust, giving us only the energy we need to maintain our current activity. Shifting back to our old energy levels doesn’t happen overnight. This lethargy won’t last forever. The more we practice doing more, the more our body adjusts and gives us the energy to keep up. The more small steps we take back into the world, the less and less it will feel overwhelming.
There’s more good news. Almost all of us share in this inner discomfort and unease. So as we continue to exist in the space between our lockdown schedules and returning to our old normal, why not be honest with your friends and family? Find a balance between listening to your body and doing the things you’d like to. If your 3-event Saturday is going to take a whole day to recover from, why not give one of those things a miss. And be honest when you cancel plans. You might be giving a friend or family member permission to share their own unease and anxieties or finding someone who can offer you support.
As George Harrison famously sung, “All things must pass”, and so too will our social fatigue and stress. Here’s 4 ways you might be kind to yourself as you begin this process.
- Expect a teething phase. It will take us some time to adjust to life out in the world again. Acknowledge that it’s ok to feel uneasy.
- Be open and honest with a friend. Find someone you can share your uncertainty and anxiety with that will hear you and support you.
- Take regular steps back into hobbies or activities you used to enjoy: it might not feel that great to begin with, but doing activities you know you would usually enjoy promotes positive emotions you use to experience doing them to return.
Stay grounded in the present: use your senses to ground yourself in the activity, conversation or environment you’re participating in. What can you see/hear/touch? If you notice your thoughts and feelings elsewhere, gently acknowledge it, and then bring your thoughts back to what you’re doing. You’ll find what you’re doing much more enjoyable.
Wesley Macintyre (M Prof Psych, Adv Grad Dip Psych, BA Psych) is in the final year of his internship as a provisional psychologist. During his Masters, Wesley completed a placement in a private practice, providing psychotherapy to adults and young people experiencing wide ranging challenges and hurdles in seeking to live a fulfilled life. Wesley is passionate about providing evidence-based practises to help clients overcome these obstacles and restore their hope of living a healthier and happier life. Wesley has experience working with individuals experiencing depression, anxiety, social issues, and autism.