As more of us are vaccinated against COVID-19, there is increased hope of reentering life where we can be together again.
Students are anticipating in-person school, team sports, theater and dance performances, and a more active social life.
Along with the excitement comes stress.
As primary care physician Lucy McBride noted in a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, “I’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus, but I’m not immune to the complex feelings that transitions invite. Like my patients anticipating the shift to post-pandemic life, my brain is buzzing with anxiety and ambivalence, rational thoughts and irrational fears. I’ve become one with elastic-waist pants, Zoom backgrounds and my Saturday-night spot on the sofa.”
We have adapted to pandemic life, and we can experience a wide range of feelings sparked by this upcoming transition. Our children are feeling it, too. They can use our guidance, especially those young people who experience anxiety.
Here are four ways to ease the transition as we move into a “new normal”:
Frame things in terms of safety. Safety soothes our most primitive reactions to stress and change. Even the youngest among us understand the concept of safety. Know your own boundaries around your safety and your child’s. Ask yourself, “What is it that I need to feel safe? What do I need to keep my children safe?” Then follow your own guidelines.
Keep the conversation active. If your children are not talking about their feelings about going back to in-person school, talk about yours. When you child starts a conversation, be willing to have it, even if it is inconvenient. Make all feelings OK. If your child says, “I’m afraid of being around people,” refrain from saying, “There is nothing to be afraid of.” Ask them, instead, what they need to feel safe and what their fear is telling them. Make it an exploration without the agenda of fixing it or changing anything.
Move at the speed of trust. Time your own reentry. Allow your children to pace themselves. Visit their school ahead of time when no one or only a few people are there. Then plan a meetup at school with a few safe friends. Small steps done over time will make the reentry smoother and less stressful.
Be aware of grief. McBride wrote, “We’ve lost more than 500,000 lives in this country alone. We’ve suffered unprecedented economic, social and emotional upheaval. And regardless of our individual pandemic experience, each of us has faced some level of loss, grief and despair.”
Know that grieving is not linear and does not follow a specific time frame. Honor your process and the process of your children. If your family needs support, please consider talking with a therapist who specializes in grief.
Even welcome change can ignite stress. Remembering that can assist you in rolling more smoothly into newness. This will be a dance between knowing and not knowing, between confidence and questioning, between sure steps and hesitation. It is your dance, your child’s dance and your spouse’s dance. You each define the steps.