Reconnecting with the outside world
After over 18 months of worldwide upheaval, explicit uncertainty has been in our face. We have experienced confusion and contradictions around new safety rules and expectations, and for many of us this is a reminder of what a crazy arbitrary world we live in. Some of us have noticed inconsistencies in “rules” designed to protect us and we see serious flaws in the logic associated with these rules; and this has only added to the growing uncertainty and the awareness that no one really knows what’s going on! For many of us, this is causing internal conflict and extreme anxiety. Aside from this, there has been the adjustment to our lifestyles, both at home and at work.
One adjustment which is likely to stay is the use of technology in regular communication. Zoom, Teams and Facetime etc have completely replaced daily physical interaction for a considerable length of time, long enough for habits to form! This has shaken up the business world and even government departments: we can hold meetings without traveling for hours in traffic and we can remain productive for longer! So the long term outcomes may be positive for better work hours and more effective use of time, but as with any progress there is always a price to pay.
The backlash to this “new habit” is the social cost in terms of mental health and people adjusting to life without physical interaction. As we prepare for getting back into a social world after lockdown the reality that this will be challenging is really hitting home. We are adaptable, we can all deal with some level of difficulty depending on our initial state - however the scale of the difficulties and the length of time in a difficulty can all impact on successful adjustment. For example if you are struggling with getting out and about or you have a history of failure with dealing with social issues, a lockdown may seem like heaven at first. Alternatively for someone who is in need of social support and encouragement and/or thrives on being around people being cooped up at home will not have the same attraction. The length of adjustment for both may vary and there may be a switch in both motivation and behaviour once the lockdown is lifted. The noticed increase in those seeking psychological and mental health supports is possibly an indicator that for many, issues were triggered by the lockdown and the explicit uncertainty that it signalled.
Adjusting to life after lockdown and dealing with new ways of being and communicating are all changes that we were unprepared for, therefore there is a huge amount of uncertainty about these changes. The world is an uncertain place, we all know that at an intellectual level and our ability to survive stems from our capacity to establish certainty around some essential aspects like food, shelter, immediate safety and a family unit of some description. We have created a sense of certainty, and are able to block out the “life is a lottery” mentality to some degree. We have systems and processes and groups and rules, and a culture that all help most of us avoid the inevitable spiral into depression if we focused on the final outcome: when all of these supports are removed however the total uncertainty is, or can be, unbearable and indeed for some it simply can’t be endured.
So how do we adjust? How can we master the uncertainty and possibly avoid that spiral into depression or extreme anxiety attacks? How does the science of behaviour help us navigate these uncertain times and provide us with some basic strategies? We know that small steps and reducing effort makes it easier to do the right thing. And in a previous blog I have discussed just how small these steps might be initially! We also know that there has to be some pay off for us to engage in any activity, so we need to feel good about what we are doing. We also know that a few small early successes helps to build momentum - so let's get on a roll now!
The following are some very simple, but potentially challenging strategies: as always these are not intended to replace medical or additional psychological support that you may be currently seeking or actively involved in.
· Vary your routine – change any small aspect of what you do daily - this will help you prepare for changes in other areas – have fun with it!
· Make one face to face communication with someone daily – say something complimentary to someone, again make it a small interaction – could be as simple as a smile or a greeting (try to look at the person!)
· Call someone instead of emailing or texting – if time is an issue, start the call off by saying “hey I’m just about to head into a meeting but wanted to…”
· Use the supermarket shop as an excuse to rehearse smiling and talking to 2 random people – refer to something you are both looking at in an aisle or say something complimentary about what they are wearing. Be creative!
· When being served by someone in a retail type set up – say their name (if they have a badge) and thank them for their service, describe what it is you liked – thank you for being so quick or friendly etc..
· Remind yourself you have a choice - and take whatever steps help you to feel better in the moment - wear clothes that make you feel confident and watch your posture - walk tall and act the way you want to feel
· Find something that can act as a reinforcer for you engaging in any of the above activities - if you find these activities really hard, you might even say I get an hour of "alone time" if I speak to 2 people today! Use whatever will motivate you!
These examples are ways of teaching ourselves to be conscious of our daily interactions: if we have been out of circulation for a while this may feel overwhelming so start small and set yourself up for success by choosing situations that are doable – smiling consciously at people you already know for example. Once you have tried one of these ideas, gradually work on adding in others and remember to be conscious about feeling good about what you are doing.
The choice is yours and always is – take that first step…you've got this -