We’re still dealing with the affects the pandemic has had on our mental health. If you’re not bouncing back full of joys, post-pandemic, you’re not alone, says Lauren O’Hagan …
Have you been feeling slightly off, post post-pandemic? Have you noticed yourself getting overwhelmed quickly? Feeling extra-sensitive? Still secretly missing the lockdowns days? If you nodded along to these questions, then rest assured, you are not alone. You could even be in the majority.
Some of us want to go back to lockdown and why wouldn’t we? The pandemic lasted two whole years of our lives. Of course, if we were to zoom out on a lifespan, two years isn’t a long time, but many of us would agree it felt like the longest time. So for the longest time, we spent it in our own company. Now, perhaps, it’s hard to find a moment of peace. We have been throttled back to “normal”.
The New normal
For some, the ending of lockdown and the return to normal has been a breath of fresh air. For others, it has been stifling or even panic-inducing. The urgency to get things done as soon as possible has returned, invitations for weddings and events that had been postponed are piling up, the long commute to the workplace has us pining for our home offices, a more open-ended schedule, long walks, home workouts. Now, almost overnight, there is nothing but busyness. Meetings every other hour, an increased workload and tighter deadlines, and after work, restaurants/pubs/cafes/gyms packed with people.
This big transition back to our busy lives after two years can be overwhelming to some people. Overwhelming and overstimulating. Sensory overload, in other words, where the brain has trouble processing too many sensations at once. Going through periods of transition can bring on new sensitivities and a big one can be overstimulation.
Some signs of overstimulation include not being able to concentrate in the workplace, sensitivity to noise, trouble winding down before bed, brain fog or loss of focus, a general sense of discomfort. Perhaps you can’t tick all of these boxes, but even if one is relevant for you, these tips for tempering overstimulation might help.
Some signs of overstimulation include not being able to concentrate in the workplace, sensitivity to noise, trouble winding down before bed, brain fog or loss of focus, a general sense of discomfort.
Podcasts that discuss this post-pandemic overwhelm or anxiety include Caroline Foran’s podcast “Owning It”, a great resource if you want to widen your knowledge around anxiety. In particular, the episode “Anxious about returning to normal post-Covid?” looks at the impact of emerging out of lockdowns. Not forgetting the impact the pandemic and post-pandemic life has had on children, an episode with psychotherapist Stuart Wilson, “Helping you help your child or teenager during Covid and beyond” from the “When” podcast series by Jennifer Hickey, shares great insight into how kids can better cope with this period.
check in with yourself
Start with the head. Note what thoughts are in there, is your headspace madly busy or relatively calm? Now, drop down to the heart. What emotions are being held in the heart space? Are they heavy or light?
Lastly, draw attention to your body. What sensations are there? What body part is connected to the earth? How is your energy? Are there any aches and pains that need some extra support?
Doing this check-in of the head and the thoughts, the heart and the feelings, and the body can bring a simple awareness of what’s going on internally.
get into the body
If you wanted to take it a step further, drop into the body. In recent years, there has been a lot of talk around this “dropping into the body” but what on earth does that mean? This body awareness conversation stems from the brilliant book The Body Keeps The Score. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk’s book from 2014. The book discusses traumatic stress and how healing the body could be the answer. A more recent conversation with van der Kolk is documented on the “On Being” podcast episode: “Bessel van der Kolk: Trauma, The Body and 2021.”
But still, what does it mean to get into the body? Simply put, it comes down to curiosity. Start with asking your body questions. What sensations are present? How is your breathing? Is there tension being held somewhere? Is movement needed? Is dancing needed? Is stillness needed? Beginning with simple questions and a sense of curiosity can draw more awareness and create a relationship with the body.
give yourself space
There is nothing wrong with taking time for yourself, it is vital once in a while. When feelings of overstimulation surface, take a minute and change your environment. Whether you find yourself in a busy, noisy place, or when frustrations at the desk begin to simmer, getting up and moving to a new environment for a few minutes can reset body and mind. This “breather” can be as slight an action as popping to the bathroom or making a cup of tea.
step away from the screen
I’m not suggesting throw the phone, laptop, and TV out the window and live a life offline but taking a small step back when overstimulation kicks in can help. Leave the phone behind when you are going for a walk, reach for a book over picking up the TV remote, or take short breaks from the laptop.
The beginning of the lockdowns took everyone a while to get used to it and the same can be said for the ending of them. Our minds and bodies are trying to keep up with the sudden return of busyness and the overwhelm that comes with that can take a while to settle. It is OK to crave that period of time at home and it is ok to be struggling a bit now. What’s important is granting ourselves a little space and time to transition back.
Lauren O’Hagan is a drama therapist.
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