Life in the New Normal — Managing Post Pandemic Stress

Life in the New Normal — Managing Post Pandemic Stress

After more than two years of grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, infection rates have significantly decreased and countries across the world have now opened up their international borders to travellers — a welcomed sign of the new normal. The new normal was something we could only dream of back in 2020.

Throughout the pandemic, many understandably experienced FOMO (fear of missing out) when there was seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel just yet. Now, FOMO has morphed into FONO (fear of normal) — the stress experienced from socialising with others beyond one’s household and going back to the office or schools, essentially the new normal.

The first good step to recovery is to first know you’re not alone in this and recognising the trauma induced by the pandemic which forced everyone in the world to be confined in their homes. Having addressed that, we have rounded up some tips to help reduce the stress of the new normal and cope with this unique time.

1. Focus on the circle of influence.

According to renowned educator, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and speaker, Dr. Stephen Covey, the problems, challenges, and opportunities we face fall into two areas — the circle of influence and circle of concern. The Circle of Concern are things over which we have little or no control: the national debt, terrorism, the pandemic. It’s important to mindfully tell ourselves to let go of things we can’t control. Throughout the pandemic, many people had trouble sleeping due to racing thoughts of finance, fear of death, losing a loved one and instability of one’s career. We’ve all been there. These concerns, like death, are inevitable and not something we can control. However, we can influence the present. Focus your thoughts on what you can control, like your breathing, waking up in the morning, exercising and getting ready for the day.

2. Make time for deep breathing

Carve out some time to practise deep breathing everyday. Take deep, purposeful breaths through your nose and exhale all the air from your mouth. Repeat this 10 times. Be mindful of how your lungs expand as you take a breath and your shoulders fall as your exhale. Being mindful takes your mind away from stressors and worry and can provide relief, even if it’s for only 10 minutes. Deep breathing is a form of meditation.

3. Set healthy boundaries

We understand that stepping out of your comfortable, covid-free cocoon can be stressful for those with FONO. However, setting healthy boundaries can get you outside while also keeping you at ease. For example, if your friends invite you to hang out at their house, it’s okay to wear your mask the entire time. It’s also completely okay to avoid physical touch like handshakes and hugging. You decide what you’re comfortable with. We should all communally as a society understand and be kind to each other, especially if we’re not ready to unmask or gather in a crowd.

4. Move your exercise outdoors

Moving your body and a change of scenery can do wonders for the mind and body. You can go hiking at Bukit Gasing or simply go to your neighbourhood park for a relaxed jog or saunter. You can rent a bicycle or public scooters and whiz around. Putrajaya is home to some exciting activities such as canoeing, a boat cruise and flyboarding to name a few. Find an activity you enjoy and take your mind off worrying for a while.

5. Volunteer

Having anxiety can make participating in anything a hindrance. However, volunteering at an animal shelter can temporarily rid you of racy thoughts and focus on something positive. You can also cook and serve food at an orphanage or alternatively distribute food to the homeless. Helping others would help you focus on the ‘now’ and give you plenty to be grateful for.

6. Laugh a little

Laughter is the best medicine. Go for a local stand-up comedy show or simply watch comedy movies at the comfort of your home and belt out that hearty laughter. Spending time with your friends, playing games and doing something silly unleashes the child in you and helps keep the dopamine going.

7. There’ll always be naysayers

Naysayers are everywhere; they may feel they have a right to comment or ridicule others on their choice to wear a mask in public when the country’s standard operating procedures have laxed. You do you. At work, you can turn to your boss and HR personnel to proactively manage these situations but that isn’t always possible. Stand up for yourself and speak your mind politely. If you need a little nudge, practice with your friends or therapist first to build confidence.

8. Slowly, but surely

Progressively take your time to enter the new normal and planned vacation. In therapy, exercises such as ‘extinction’ or ‘exposure therapy’ which incorporates visualisation to manage stressors are recommended by experts. It starts with visualising an uncomfortable scenario such as crossing a bridge or picturing yourself at the airport for instance. Upon mastering that, progress further by visualising yourself with your loved one in the aeroplane. Over time, you can progress from visualising about being at the airport to physically being there for your vacation. Set realistic, personally achievable goals and go from there. Remember not to compare yourself to anyone because everyone’s mental health differs. Always seek help if anxiety gets in the way of normal life, there’s no shame in that at all.