How to cope with mixed emotions about resuming "normal life"


As more and more of us are reaching vaccine dose one of two, heading back into offices, resuming some less-restricted social activities, and maybe even starting to entertain the idea of planning a summer trip, we may find ourselves feeling ambivalent about all of it. It’s completely normal if how you thought you might feel isn’t lining up with the way you actually feel. It’s okay if your emotional space feels like the muddiest water you’ve ever seen. For most of us, the COVID pandemic is (hopefully) the only event like it we’ll ever experience in our lifetime. It's a defining historical event during which we’ve had to stifle a lot of our emotions to be able to get up and out of bed and show up to our responsibilities and be accountable. 

We may also be struggling with self-inflicted pressure to have gratitude for any and all of the good fortune we’ve had. We might be asking ourselves, “Should I be feeling differently? Should I feel more relieved? Happier? Less stressed? Excited?” Or maybe it’s the opposite - “Why am I feeling so anxious about going back into the world in a more “normal” capacity? Why have I become a social recluse? How do I fix it?” The bottom line is any and all feelings are allowed and welcome. There are no “shoulds” when it comes to feelings. There are no feelings that are “good” or “bad” to have - feelings just are. Especially during "unprecedented times" that just keep evolving.

We’re right there with you - there are a lot of mixed emotions coming up as the most restrictive measures are increasingly behind us and talk of future vacations, social events and a more “normal” existence hovers in the near distance. Remembering that it’s ok and completely normal to have multiple emotions at once is the key here - and we’ve got some tips to help you through everything coming up for you now:

The only way out is through

As many a greeting card says, you’ve made it through 100% of your worst days so far and you’ll make it through these ones too. Distracting ourselves from our fears and emotions only makes them harder to address, more complex, and often more severe down the road. When dealing with such profound life events, it’s normal to feel a little like you’re stuck upstream without a paddle - but it’s essential to remember that eventually it will all work out. We’ll get to where we need to go. You can handle it. 

The only constant in life is change

At some point, we’ve all felt overwhelmed. Chances are too, that we’ve fluctuated between “detached” and “completely overwhelmed.” There has been a lot of sudden and constant change happening, and this has led to a consistent and lingering air of uncertainty and/or fear. Remember that humans are incredibly resilient. As a species we’ve been through countless other pandemics, natural disasters, wars and more. 

Though most would wish we didn’t have to cope with this pandemic, we can also reflect on the fact that being thrown into volatile, shifting and challenging situations often yields post traumatic growth. We have been growing our resilience this entire time: our ability to cope with challenges, recover from them, and get back to a place of thriving. Remember that we’re coming out of this stronger (which doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re “okay” right now - being strong doesn’t mean feeling “good” all the time). 

Accept your feelings for what they are and learn to ride the waves

Do not let your feelings be the boss of you. Practice being mindful about emotions as they rise. Put mental distance between your emotional state and how you consciously choose to behave in response to it. The more we can accept and validate our own feelings, without assigning a good/bad judgment to them, the better we’ll be able to process them. 

Better processing leads to healthier coping because we’re able to understand - and eventually meet - our own needs better. One of the best ways to facilitate this is to avoid reacting to all our emotions and letting them drive our behaviour. We can choose not to react to them instinctively, and rather let them play out in our bodies and minds, maybe slowly deciding what to do next (if anything!) and eventually moving on. 

Test drive different ways of coping

Sometimes we don’t know what we want or need at a given moment, especially when there are a lot of different emotions floating around and bubbling up within us. Sometimes when we’re feeling stuck in a particularly unpleasant emotion or mental space, we try to think of coping mechanisms we could use to help make ourselves feel better - but it’s okay to not have it all figured out, all the time. It’s okay to not always know exactly what you need. All you can do is your best - and that’s enough! 

When you’re struggling to cope with some particularly uncomfortable emotions, and feel that you’ve reached a point where you’d like to move on, test out a bunch of different methods and see what helps the most. Maybe it’s calling a friend or family member or putting on your favourite podcast while you cook yourself a healthy meal. Maybe it’s getting out a craft you haven’t done in ages and you used to love. Or maybe it’s just laying out in the sun (with sunscreen!) and reading a good book. Adopt an attitude of trial-by-error and be playful. Don’t put too much weight into whether something does or doesn’t “work.” Emotions come and go, as they’re meant to. Sometimes we just need to let them rise and then dissipate at their own schedule. 

Take it one step at a time

While we have once been used to multitasking in our event planning - booking a family trip, buying concert tickets, and scheduling a college reunion - right now is the time to go slow. Do what feels comfortable for you, especially if you're feeling a little fearful, skeptical or cautious of what the future holds. You don't need to dive back in all at once. We have lived a very different life for over a year - show yourself some grace as we start to rebuild our lives.