Earlier this month, Jacqueline found herself looking at the full face of a stranger in the grocery store for the first time in over a year.
“I realized how much information you take in from someone’s face,” says Jacqueline, who’s a mental health capacity builder with the County. “It was a mix of emotions where I felt a little vulnerable — but also excited.”
Right now, the sight of a maskless stranger in the produce aisle is enough to bring up complicated feelings. We are in a moment of collective change, and over half of Canadians reported feeling anxious about this return to pre-pandemic life, according to a Leger survey.
In her role with the County, Jacqueline helps children, youth and families understand mental health. She knows just how tough change can be — and offers four practical ways to navigate through it.
1. Accept emotions as they are
While the return to pre-pandemic activities is undoubtedly hopeful, change is still uncomfortable, explains Jacqueline. Re-navigating social situations and relationships after months away will likely bring up conflicting emotions.
Your instinct may be to dismiss these upsetting feelings, but Jacqueline recommends working to accept them instead. “We often jump to problem solve or distract ourselves but sitting with that emotion can be really helpful. And know there's probably people around us that are feeling the same way.”
2. Practice positive self-talk
As restrictions lifted, social expectations started to rise. You may feel pressure to return to your pre-pandemic activities and feel guilty when nerves or lack of social energy get in the way.
In these moments, your brain is likely to fixate on the negative, and you may feel guilty or upset at yourself for what you perceive as failure, despite all the positive accomplishments of that day.
“This negative bias can harm us and make us feel really defeated,” says Jacqueline. To combat this, she recommends thinking about how you would talk to a friend and turning that kindness on yourself.
“Positive self-talk takes practice. The first few times you tell yourself in a reassuring way, ‘I’m great. I can do this!” it’s hard to believe it. We’ve been repeating negative things to our brain for so long, we need to rewire our brains to believe it.”
3. Set clear boundaries
While many of us are celebrating the return of birthday parties and brunch dates, those social scenarios can cause anxiety. You might wonder if you should still wear a mask or if your unvaccinated children should attend.
With all the unknowns, Jacqueline recommends taking a moment to reflect on your own comfort level, communicating your needs to others and setting clear boundaries before the meet-up. “Also, recognize that your boundaries might change and they can be fluid — that’s okay.”
4. Learn real self-care
The words self-care might make you think of spa days and bubble baths. And while those might be part of self-care, they’re not always practical or even helpful for everyone.
“What’s meaningful is to find something that calms your nervous system down and helps you feel grounded and rejuvenated,” says Jacqueline. That could be a movie night, tidying the house, journaling or just blocking one hour a week to yourself. The goal is to find small, manageable practices that fit in your schedule.
Ultimately, Jacqueline says we need to be patient with ourselves, knowing the stressful and anxious feelings from the pandemic won’t disappear overnight.
“Having good mental health doesn't mean we are happy all the time. Having good mental health means we can navigate the ups and downs of life.”
This story is part of our Be Real. Be Really Kind. campaign to encourage empathy as we enter community recovery from COVID-19. If you’re struggling with your mental health, finances or just feel overwhelmed, call our Family and Community Services line at 780-464-4044.