Hi Everyone, welcome to the anxious pineapple, a show dedicated to getting curious about our good friend, anxiety. My name is Kayla Chorley, your host and anxious therapist.
A friendly reminder this podcast is in no way a substitute for therapy, and does not constitute therapeutic advice. This is simply for informational purposes only. I encourage you to follow up with your own therapist or medical doctor for personal support and advice.
Hi friends, and welcome to back to the anxious pineapple for episode 2! I have a jam-packed episode today, so much so you might actually have to listen to it twice.
In all honesty, I had a completely different show planned for this week, but I recently received an inquiry on instagram about how to navigate anxiety as we enter into post-pandemic life, which is timely, considering restrictions here in Alberta, Canada where I am located were lifted last week. We are the first province in Canada to get rid of all of our redirections and so I have desperately been trying to scrounge up my own info on how to navigate all of this, so I think this is a very important topic. Now I can tell you, I am feeling all sorts of things at the prospect of getting back to a somewhat pre-pandemic-sqe life: I am excited about re-establishing some old routines, connecting with people I haven’t seen in awhile, and eventually, down the road when I feel ready, ditching face masks. It’s going to be weird seeing people’s faces again haha.
Now despite all of that, another part of me is hesitant and worried about my own safety and that of others, and generally I find myself a bit more on edge these days when I head out into public.
So friends, if you are like me, and you are experiencing many thoughts and feelings around entering into post-Pandemic life, and are wondering how to navigate certain scenarios related to post-Covid living, this episode is for you! Alright, let’s do this!
Covid and anxiety. What a love story for the ages. Covid waltz with a mysterious bad-boy vibe, gets anxiety all excited and sweeps it off its feet, and the two of them have been inseparable ever since. Now, I joke; but the truth is, many of us are feeling more anxious as a result of covid. In fact, The Canadian Mental Health Association recently conducted a study and found that 77% of Canadians are feeling heightened anxiety and worry as a result of the virus. I want to say that this statistic is shocking, but in all actuality it would be way more shocking if we saw anxiety levels decrease during the pandemic. Think about it – this makes sense given the context of the last 1 and a half years.
Remember that anxiety is a protector – it’s ultimate goal is to keep us safe when it perceives a potential threat to be present. Covid-19 has been a substantial threat to our health, livelihood, and overall well-being. So, anxiety has been sticking around for many of us to try and take care of that threat and micromanage us in an attempt to keep us safe during this time. I get it – anxiety is often not convenient and it works in ways that may often feel counterintuitive; and sometimes it might feel like it would be easier for it to just go away; but, keep it mind that it is an ally and it is doing its job – perhaps a little too well at times.
I’d also like to point out covid-19 has tested our anxiety in a completely different way. We know anxiety loves two things, comfort and certainty – which were basically non-existent for many of us during the height of the pandemic. Lots of us were pushed out of our comfort zones doing things that normally wouldn’t phase us – like leaving our houses and going to the grocery store. Comfort levels were also tested during lock down phases of the pandemic, when we had limited options of where we could go, who we could see and connect with, and what we could do. We lost our ability to engage in activities that generally bring us comfort and support, like being able to visit loved ones, or go to the gym, or even attend therapy sessions in person.
At the same time, uncertainty was commonplace. Things could, and did, change rapidly – one minute things would be looking up, and the next we would be in total lock down. On top of that, many of us had to adjust how we engaged in our work, perhaps shifting to a completely online model and working from home, or being out of work completely, with no guarantee of when things would change, which as you can imagine increases stress levels substantially.
Now, I don’t know about you, but listening to someone describe the last few years of the pandemic makes my body react – which makes sense, because our body holds on to a lot of our memories and feelings. So, if you are like me, and are noticing a physical response right now, take a minute to check-in with where you are feeling that in your body, and breathe into that space.
It’s truly no wonder why people are excited about the prospect of getting back to a more pre-pandemic-esque kind of life. Excitement may be something many of us are feeling right now. However, I also understand that there may be some apprehension around it. We are dealing with another major transition, once again challenging our comfort levels and bringing up a degree of uncertainty. I want to take a second to acknowledge that it is possible to be both excited and apprehensive at the same time. You don’t have to choose one or the other; they can both exist and be present together. So if you are experiencing conflicting feelings about restrictions being lifted, know that that is okay. Also be aware that you are not alone in those feelings. The majority of us are feeling a multitude of emotions as we enter into this next phase of our lives.
So let’s talk about what this next sort of phase of our lives might look like and what type of scenarios we may potentially be facing in the next little while. I think one of the most common challenges we’re going to be facing early on involves social gatherings. Friends and family members might be eager to see us and as a result they might invite us out, festivals are now coming back, movie theatres, restaurants and other gathering spaces are now open at max capacity. We might have to make decisions in regards to what type of events we feel comfortable attending and if we are cool with larger crowds again.
Another scenario is around PPE – are we feeling ready to ditch the mask when we go out into public? Or do we feel like we want to wear it off a little longer?
And, lastly, many of us may be required to head back to work in person. Although this might be out of our control, we can make decisions in regards to what that looks like and how we show up in that space, whether to continue with hand- sanitizing routines and wearing personal protective equipment or not.
For many of us dealing with anxiety, making decisions is not easy. It requires us to consider our own needs, and to communicate them to others. I can hear you say it now: “But, isn’t it selfish to consider our own needs? Shouldn’t we always put others first before ourselves?”
I call that our default setting. You know how your phone has a factory setting when you first get it? We do too.
For myself, my default setting includes people-pleasing, so if a friend or family member asks me to do x, y, or z, I automatically feel a need to follow through, even if it requires me to put my own needs aside. I commonly see this same people-pleasing default setting in a lot of my clients.
Now again, people-pleasing seems counterintuitive right? But, in reality it serves a very important survival function – to keep you connected to others. Back in the day (like cave people days), in order to survive you had to live in groups, so if you weren’t able to form connections with others, you were at risk of being attacked by predators. Although times are substantially different today, our brains operate under the same assumption that we need connection with others to survive – hence why we may find ourselves exhibiting people-pleasing tendencies. What’s helpful about understanding our default setting is that if we are aware of it, we can take note of when it shows up for us, and then can consciously decide whether to act on it or not.
It’s Important to understand there are no right or wrong answers when deciding how to navigate these scenarios. Everyone will likely display different levels of comfortability and that’s okay. Think of comfort levels as being more on a continuum or spectrum than an either/or type scenario. We will all exist somewhere on that spectrum, and it might even depend on the specific situation we are contemplating. Perhaps you feel comfortable with larger groups of friends, but aren’t ready to attend a concert or festival yet. So, take some time to consider where you at on that spectrum. It might also be helpful to check-in with yourself, and acknowledge any feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations that may come for you as you consider these different scenarios. I encourage you to take some time to turn your attention inwards and simply notice what is present, without trying to change or get rid of whatever is there.
Now, we are going to be tempted to play the comparison game during all of this. “But, my friend is comfortable with x, y, & z – shouldn’t I be too?” Listen, you do not need to be at the same place as anyone else. Once again, this is our survival brain kicking in. It wants us so badly to fit in so that we can connect with others to survive. For many of us, this is where the self-doubt, and questioning often comes in. “Maybe we should be at the same comfort level as them?!” If you find a lot of “shoulds” are coming up for you right now, try changing the wording to “I could..but”, for example: the thought “I should be comfortable with going to a festival already”, sounds completely different when worded as “I could go to a festival, but I am not comfortable with that yet, and I am going to honour how I am feeling.”
So, you’ve taken some time to determine your comfort levels – now what?! It’s time to establish some boundaries!! I feel like “boundary” has become such a buzzword lately, everyone talks about them, but the majority of us find it difficult to establish and uphold them. This likely has something to do with our default setting of people-pleasing. We don’t want people to be upset or disappointed in us; but boundaries actually strengthen our relationships with others. They clearly outline what we expect of others in terms of behaviour and meeting our needs, making it much easier for them to follow through. This is an opportunity for us to practice our communication skills. So, let’s say one of your BFFs invites you to a festival. You’ve taken some time to reflect, and have determined you aren’t comfortable with attending such an event. It’s perfectly acceptable to say to that friend: “thank-you for the invite, but I’m just not ready for that yet.” You can still be the pleasant, respectful, kind person you are while establishing and enforcing boundaries. Now, if you’re like me, you might need to practice saying this a few times in front of the mirror first and that’s okay. The more we practice, the more confident we will feel when it’s time to put boundaries in place. Will your friend be disappointed that you have decided not to go to the festival with them? Maybe, but it’s important to remember that you are not responsible for managing other people’s feelings – in other words, let go of trying to control how other people feel.
Now, up until this point the focus of this episode has been on situations in which you have the choice to decline attending or engaging, but what about those times when you don’t have a choice, like being asked to go back to work in person? Maybe you are part of the service industry or are required to go back to the office – what then? Well, my friends, in those situations it may be helpful to practice radical acceptance. Know that you do not have to be completely void of anxiety or worry to do something, nor do you have to be completely calm; you can bring the anxiety and worry you are experiencing and feeling with you; You can still move forward even if they are present. Also keep in mind what is in your control and what is not. Sure, you might not have a choice in going back to work, but you still have control over how you show up in that space – you have a right to continue to wear ppe and engage in hand-sanitizing and other routines, such as wiping down client spaces, if that makes you feel more comfortable.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge that anxiety often makes us feel like we lack the resources to handle the unknown; although this seems very unhelpful, this is out of love – anxiety is trying to protect us by preparing us for the worst case scenario and wants us to feel underprepared in an attempt to get us to over prepare. So, if you are feeling like you lack resources at the moment, remember that you have already successfully navigated a global pandemic which is no small feat. It’s clear from that experience that you already possess both the resiliency and grit necessary to handle whatever life throws your way.
So my friends, as always I encourage you to get curious about your anxiety this week. Take some time to reflect on your comfort levels as you enter into post-pandemic life, be gentle with yourself as you navigate this transition, and remember that anxiety is an ally. See you next time!
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