A little over a year ago, HHA’s resident counselor Andrea Inauen shared her best tips for coping with the pandemic that turned our entire world upside down. At the time, when shut-downs made a single day feel eternal, the focus was on survival more than anything.
While COVID-19 still looms large over our lives, it’s no secret that we’re fatigued from living in crisis mode. The current struggle is more about trying to process the enormity of what we experienced while also being expected to return to work, school, and many pre-pandemic activities (which can come with a lot of anxiety). After such a significant slowdown, returning to our old levels of business and productivity may feel like a shock to the system.
To help you navigate yet another period of transition, Andrea generously shared some simple and effective strength-based tools you can call on to feel more grounded, resilient, and mindful.
Q: Is there a common theme or sentiment you’ve been hearing people struggle with lately?
Andrea: The biggest thing is a locus of control, because there's so much going on right now that we don't have control over. The question I ask my clients is, “What is within your control?” This pandemic is still a threat with many moving parts, but we all want a quality of life that’s more than just existing in survival mode.
So while we’re aware of what’s happening in the world, we have to remind ourselves that the locus of control is within us. It’s up to us to create a sense of joy and purpose and grounding. This means asking questions like, “What’s important to me? What feels good?” There are different areas to explore in this question, from work life to family life. Those muscles went dormant for a while, but we can stretch them a little more — but not to the point where we’re tearing them by trying to do too much too fast.
Q: Are there any other common struggles you’re seeing during this time?
Andrea: A lot of people are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Life is generally filled with peaks and valleys, moments that are both somber and joyful. But when we actually soak in those high points, we gain tools and resilience to help us manage the lows; it replenishes our sense of self. Give yourself permission to enjoy the good, knowing it will help the valleys to be less dark.
I also hear from people who feel guilty about being happy and healthy when bad things are happening all over the world. In essence, we certainly can have feelings, awareness, and compassion, and even get involved in some cases. But to entirely absorb guilt and responsibility is unfair to self and not an accurate reflection of these larger issues.
The key is to change the conjunction from “but” to “and.” So if your normal mindset is, “I want to have a birthday party for my child, but how can I do that when so many kids are suffering?” then consider this slight tweak: “I am aware of this tragedy and my heart breaks for the people involved and I know that celebrating my child doesn’t take away from that.”
By continuing to live your life, it’s fuel so that you can be more of a support system for someone in pain. It truly doesn’t help for you to be guilty. The answer to guilt is to not deny yourself, but instead to live with gratitude.
Q: Do you have any advice for those experiencing anxiety about returning to pre-pandemic activities?
Andrea: If you haven't exercised a muscle in a year, you can't run a marathon. It’s the same with your social life — recognize that it’s a muscle that needs a little stretching and nurturing. If you haven’t been out in a year, jumping into a trip to Disney World is going to feel overwhelming.
Ease in and listen to yourself instead of overdoing it. You don’t want to pull yourself back and let fear run the show, so just check in with yourself and see what your energy levels are feeling like. Maybe instead of committing to an all-day affair, you meet a friend for an hour. If you find that you’re feeling energized instead of drained, you might choose to extend your outing. Either way, listen to yourself!
Q: How can you differentiate between the real need for rest and self-sabotage?
Andrea: It can help to do a checklist to see how you’re really feeling. You can even put this on an index card as sort of a rule-out diagnosis. You might ask: Is my body fatigued? Is there a physical sense of exhaustion? Is there something else I'd really rather be doing?
If you answer yes to all of the above, maybe you really will benefit most from rest. But if not, it’s possible you’re sabotaging yourself out of fear. Again, if you’re feeling anxious, you don’t want to overcommit yourself. Give yourself an out if you need it. It’s like an arcade game — do you want to add more coins, add another hour? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Sometimes it’s important for you to see that person you have plans with, and even if you’re not feeling super enthused, you’ll stretch yourself more for your friend. Sometimes, it’s not super important and it’s going above your threshold. Find a middle ground and try not to stretch yourself too thin.
Q: Are there any personal lessons you learned during 2020 that you’d like to carry forward?
Andrea: I learned to do what’s important to me with more intention and less speed. Things that would have been put on the back burner — like painting for no purpose, or watching a movie — got moved higher up on the list. Pre-pandemic, I was always trying to be fast and productive. Especially being from the northeast, sometimes I struggle with is not going 90 mph at all times. But if you run a marathon every day, you’ll burn out. These days I’m more realistic and unapologetic about slowing down. I can still say yes to things, but I can space it out to be more connected to myself during the day. There are beautiful things that can come out of speed and passion, but sometimes doing it slower is actually doing it better.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the HHA community?
Andrea: We're all human and it's so, so important to be kind to yourself. Whether you're in a crisis or in a joyful mood, be kind and gentle to yourself!
Q: If people are interested in seeing you for counseling, what are the next steps?
Andrea: I welcome the opportunity to talk with you! I can be reached at 973-886-0941 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to provide more information, share about what a session might look like, or to schedule an appointment.
Hannah Chenoweth is a Hoboken-based conference producer and freelance writer who enjoys covering all aspects of health and wellness.