Many of my clients found that their families were completely unprepared for the frustration, fear, and isolation that resulted. Others experienced insomnia, anxiety and poor concentration for the first time.
And our kids pushed our buttons, skipped classes, took video calls in their pajamas, and complained about all the things we couldn’t control. In the meantime, of course, we had loved ones who got sick or perhaps died. We feared for our own health and many of us were concerned that our jobs were at risk.
Looking back, many people have told me that this was the most unpredictable and stressful time in their life. Last year around this time, the last thing we thought about was plans for a carefree, enjoyable and memorable summer.
Fortunately, a lot has changed in one year.
Of course, this pandemic is far from over, but with a much deeper understanding of how it is transmitted, millions of vaccines already administered, and pandemic fatigue that sets on almost all of us, I think we need a break together.
In my opinion, this break should start now.
How does it look for you? Maybe it means not pushing the kids to improve their grades at the end of the semester, not rushing to get fit for summer, not packing winter clothes and new swimsuits, and not working harder around this summer time to win.
This summer, I encourage families to use the least stressful approach to most decisions. You and your family have been idle for over a year. This means, of course, that we have experienced stress, but it is associated with a feeling of exhaustion and boredom that many of us have never experienced before. My clients today describe a feeling of emptiness and vague pessimism, a persistent feeling of sadness, and a lack of certainty about the future.
It is time to change this thinking before it becomes ingrained and becoming a habit, for ourselves and for our children.
While we can’t say it’s time for post-pandemic life – we’re not there yet – we can reset our thinking and activities to reflect a new, less stressful, joyful normal, at least for now. Here are a few reset ideas.
Skip the focus on performance and perfection
For example, I work with parents who urge their children to get homework and grades as if this was an ordinary year. But this year was anything but ordinary. If you are a parent and your kids are like my clients this was a series of adjustments, from hybrid and online courses to in-person courses and sometimes back again.
As the months go by, it becomes more and more difficult for her to concentrate and muster the energy for big tasks or new, difficult material.
Let your children walk “well enough” for the next few weeks. If they are in class, doing some work every day, and really trying, give them a break. In fact, give them plenty of breaks.
Remember how tough this school year has been for them and change your success criteria. If you have shown the resilience and competence to survive this year, it will be a big win.
Give yourself a break too.
If you are a little behind with your work or the house is not perfectly clean, let’s be good enough too. You will get there. Take a deep breath and remember that this was tiring for you too, and like your children, in all likelihood you need a break.
When you’re single, you’ve faced your own challenges. You may have spent more time alone than you ever thought. Reunions with friends and dates suddenly came to a standstill, resulting in loneliness and, in some of my clients, even depression. You had to face dangerous financial situations at times.
It was tough for all of us.
Take the ride and listen to your favorite playlist. Safely sit down with a friend and reconnect. Binge watch something funny. Treat yourself.
Make plans for the summer
A year ago, our summer plans, if we did, were exceptionally limited. With all the progress since then in containing Covid-19, we can also lift some of our restrictions. Sit down and think about what it is safe to do to enjoy this summer.
Many of my clients plan to drive to national parks or to visit family and friends they haven’t seen in over a year. Schedule an evening every week. Be creative about this. Here in the Chicago area where I live, people plan on going to drive-in theaters and even concerts. It’s fun and you don’t have to wait.
Ease in social interactions
A woman was recently in my office complaining about how quickly her friends get vaccinated and want to meet, sometimes in large groups. She doesn’t feel ready to move from almost complete social isolation to larger gatherings.
Follow your instinct here. Meet up and have a coffee or take a walk with a friend. See how this feels to you. And if you or your children have to get involved socially again, give yourself or them the space to do so.
Lighten a lot
One teenager told me everything he missed during the pandemic. His list was long and somewhat predictable, but when I asked what he was missing the most, he never missed a beat. “Laugh. I miss the laugh.” This is not an unusual feeling.
We have collectively carried a sense of gravity in our mindset for far too long. And that seriousness has carried over to most areas of our lives. So what used to be family jokes has turned into annoyances at times. We’re too quick to be quick with each other. We need to get brighter and laugh more.
That’s one reason for comedy. Make a conscious effort to listen and laugh. If you are a parent this is where your kids can take the lead.
I work with teenagers every day and have the luxury of seeing some of the best stand-up improvised comedies right in my office. Make room in your home for a lighter mood in every way.
Get your family to talk about gratitude
If you’re rolling your eyes at this suggestion, I understand. But I can tell you with authority that gratitude at any level is perhaps the most effective antidote to any unhealthy mindset.
Gratitude can be an internal exercise. I find it very helpful when clients identify three elements of their life that they are grateful for, preferably first thing in the morning. Try tomorrow.
It will make a meaningful change in the way you approach your day and you will find yourself looking for other people and things for which you are grateful. Gratitude feeds on itself and tends to grow.
By and large, remember that it is exceptionally difficult to maintain a fear-and-crisis mindset. Neither of us is made to cope in this room for a long period of time. As we head into summer, a reset away from the stresses of pandemic thinking is critical to the wellbeing of you and your family.
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