“I should be happy and excited, but all I feel is pressured.” The preceding statement is a variation of so many dialogues I’ve had with clients over the last few weeks, as they anticipate the slow, but steady reopening of their communities. These ponderings are especially prompted by scheduled vaccinations, which will inevitably make it feel safer to see older family members and friends. Here’s the truth– if things still don’t feel comfortable, that makes good sense!
We can let utterings of “should” slide when it comes to, say taking out the garbage (you totally should do that, right now), but when it comes to internalized commands on how to deal with a world crisis and life shattering circumstances you have no experience with, I urge you to let go of self defeating language. If we push away our thoughts and feelings, they will fester. If we work towards acceptance, we can take radical action towards meaning.
Let’s instead look back at some of the challenges many of us faced at the pandemic’s start: shifts in work environments, navigating varied loved one’s comfort levels, and not knowing exactly what precautions are necessary (i.e.: gloves when touching any surface). Begin to ask yourself why you are having an adverse reaction to your friend asking you out to dinner.
Am I reacting to the person or activity?
Have I had subtle, yet adverse, reactions to how much energy I’ve given this person in the past? Is this someone I want to give my energy?
Can I suggest a different activity? Is there somewhere else I’d feel more comfortable that I might suggest?
Diving into the discomfort, uncertainty, and anxiety will help you get specific, ultimately guiding you towards a strong inner voice. Likely, if the discomfort continues to crop up and yet, you value the person or activity, it means it’s time to work towards it nonetheless. You can call on a sense of faith that those feelings will dissipate. Be intentional. Who and what really gives your life meaning? On the other hand, if a gnawing continues that says “this person or activity isn’t right for me,” know that discomfort and anxiety serve a purpose. They are warning signs of danger or a sign that boundaries have been crossed.
Let’s normalize our reactions, versus should-ing on ourselves. No one knew how to behave at the spark of COVID. We allowed ourselves to feel pretty nutty. While we have more tools, datas, and safeguards (i.e. vaccinations) now, no one has their feelings down. Further, ebbs and flows in those emotions are normal. Identify what and who is most important. Start finding ease and comfort there, guided by your values. Communicate your needs. Would telling Aunt Sue that you’d love to visit her summer cabin for a weekend in August feel better than the typical entire extended family soiree over Independence Day?
The story will shift. Your feelings will shift. If folks hold onto disappointments and aren’t forgiving of your boundaries or, in the least, able to compromise, it’s indicative of a need for a more substantial boundaries conversation. Make sure that you are empathetic towards yourself and get clear on your limits first. Change is always hard and the changes we faced over the last 1.5 years are monumental. Expecting to feel free of anxieties is not only unreasonable, but harmful to our mental wellness.