By Arden O'Connor
Posted in Mental Health Resources
What I Hope to Bring to the New Normal
Like many type-A women, I’m a planner. The cause is irrelevant- a trip, a work project, a special dinner – I like to have all of the details organized weeks in advance. Ironically, my goal for 2020 was to be more “spontaneous”. My solution? PLANNED “Adventure days” on my calendar – how impromptu!
The Impact of the Pandemic
Then the pandemic hit and with it, spontaneity when out the window. After understandable fear about getting sick, my anxiety crept into another place – concern over my lack of control. I had been planning my life away and now some of the most important goals I had set were and continue to be delayed. I was forced to live in the moment, which, as a Type-A person, is difficult. most notably trying to have a baby through surrogacy. That process was and continues to be delayed. Recently, I went on an extended vacation to enjoy some post-vaccination freedom. Just as I was finalizing my daily itinerary of restaurants and activities, the island went on a two week lockdown, requiring us to be largely confined to our homes.
Normally, these changes would have sent my anxiety through the roof, and I would begin endless perseveration on frustrations and ways to optimize situations out of my control. Fortunately, I recently participated in a facilitated daily gratitude practice through Insight Timer (is there a copyright or anything you need to note with the name?).
While none of my colleagues would currently describe me as “Zen”, I have learned a few things:
- I experience disappointment when the storyline I have scripted of how a particular experience will unfold ends up being different than what I anticipated. Put simply, I cause my own disappointment, which means that I can also erase it.
- A less packed calendar is a good thing. Stillness creates calmness, something I’ve desperately sought for a long time. Boredom forces me to get out of my own monotonous routine, even in the little ways that are feasible now (i.e. watching a new Netflix show, sitting in a new room, making a new mocktail).
- The pandemic wiped out constant work travel and professional evening obligations, both of which I don’t miss. Our team at OPG also learned that these two things aren’t essential to our success.
- Things I view as the “eat your spinach” tasks – exercising, reading more, consuming more vegetables- actually deserve to be classified as “self-care”. I dread doing them and always feel better after I do.
- I can do more with less. Zoom isn’t a replacement for in person interaction, but it does help me to feel connected to friends and laugh uncontrollably. Some deprivation (lack of access to my favorite restaurants or concerts) will hopefully make me savor those experiences when they are available again.
As the owner of a behavioral health company, I would be naïve to suggest that COVID-19 had a net positive impact on our general mental well-being. For the vast majority of us, it has created higher levels of anxiety, depression, rates of substance abuse and general feelings of unease about what the “new normal” will bring. I’m also aware that this perspective largely applies to people who are in the fortunate position of having meaningful employment, stable income and a strong community of friends and family members; without those element, the concept of “silver linings’ can feel pandering and irrelevant.
With those qualifications, I hope that we can bring any positives into the new normal. For me, I have experienced clarity, contentment and gratitude at higher rates than I ever have before. While I impatiently wait for the day when I can safely hug my nephews, I also hope that I don’t forget the gains I’ve made.