Dealing with our changing environment

By Darren Miller

A while ago when this blog was first launched, one of my first posts was about coping with the "new normal". As we have progressed through this pandemic the extent of this "new normal" has become more prevalent, and we are now having to get used to the new way of living our life. While I have optimism that the "new normal" is still a "new temporary", we're in this for the long haul for now.

Where we once used to be able to live a fairly spontaneous life, we now seemingly have to micromanage every aspect of what we do. We are now in a time where the simple things we took for granted simply cannot happen.

Do we have time to queue to enter a shop? Have I remembered my face covering? Can I really be bothered with the hassle? Should I plan my holiday for next year or wait until there is certainty in the world.

There's literally a myriad of things now we may struggle with in this new world, and it's ok to have worry, trepidation or fear over the whole heap of new norms that we have to experience.

I know personally I have struggled with the issue of wearing a face covering. I find that I feel claustrophobic with it on, and it really heightens my anxiety. While there is the freedom to claim an exemption, I personally would not like the inevitable judging eyes making their own conclusions as to why I chose not to wear a mask.

I'm managing to limit the length of time I subject myself to having to wear a mask quite well, and recognising when I need to stop to take it off for a rest. Be it going outside, going for a coffee or food, I find that these tactics are making this bearable for me. What I would say though, for people who simply can't wear a mask for whatever reason, do so without fear. People may judge, people may look with a side eye, but at the end of the day, much of what is going on around this pandemic is focused around keeping yourself safe. While there is all the physical worry and effects that are widely publicised, the mental health side of things is equally as important and not as widely discussed. Keeping yourself safe mentally is just as important as physically.

I also find social distancing awkward. Not because of keeping a distance, but because everyone seems to have their own ways of coping with it, and their own interpretations of it ranging from strictly observing to not observing at all. It's important to recognise that everyone copes with this new norm differently.

Here's a few tips from Dr Robert Leahy, a Psychiatrist that I found that I found quite useful. I've elaborated a little bit on the tips.

Adjust your expectations - Not just for yourself and what you want, but adjust your expectations of others. There's bound to be people around us that are apprehensive of this changing world. There's going to be people who don't wear a mask either by choice or by medical need who will be walking with the fear of judgement. There is people who will question every aspect of cleanliness of stores, restaurants and the environment around them. There's going to be people who aren't comfortable with someone being close to them. There will be people who will look accusingly at someone who sneezes in public, and there will be people who are far more comfortable with all of the above than others. Be realistic and respectful around your expectations of others. Everyone is coping with this in different ways.

Aside from the expectations of others, we should be realistic in our expectations on the things that we can do. From our spare time, to shopping, to holidays. We're in this for the long haul, unfortunately, so that takes me onto point two.

Focus on what you can do, not what you cannot do - There's a lot of things we can't do just now. From booking a lovely holiday to help us forget about the stresses of this madness, to going shopping without worry. This without a doubt will have a big effect on your mental wellbeing. We have moved from when we could plan and do things with a degree of certainty to a time when there is very little certainty and guidance changes on a daily basis.

Think of what you can do. Not only to help you, but to help others. From exercise to socialising, all have benefits for you and others and are (for many) easily achievable.

Don’t view everything that you had as essential -

This point is obviously easier said than done. We've moved into a time when we can't have a lot of what we'd have easily had before. Right down to some of the little things that we'd class as every day things. We need to accept that for now we might not be able to have the things we would normally have, or it might be that little bit harder to get. While this can be hard, it makes the little things that were once our day-to-day essentials all that more special when we eventually do get them again.

Things may be a little more limited than before, and there is very little we can do just now about that. So enjoy what you can, when you can, and when the time comes the things that have been that bit harder to get will be all the sweeter when you do, and that can work wonders for your mental wellbeing.

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