Dubai: The memories of our once carefree and frivolous nature have for now, been stored away in the confines of our minds. Instead, we have been rightly advised to take care of ourselves, by adhering to social distancing rules whilst wearing mandatory face masks, and for the most part staying at home.
Over the past 12 weeks or so, home has been the place for work, rest and play. The only options available for a change of scenery have been to either move from the bedroom to the living room, or by replacing our Zoom virtual meeting backgrounds to the default images of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or the very appealing green and lush forest from somewhere in the world!
The prospect of easing restrictions of what seems like the longest and probably most challenging time in our living memory, is met by great excitement and longing for the majority. However, some are feeling an uneasy sense of dread with an equal measure of anxiety layered on top. It is important to note, whether there are fears over returning to a work or school environment; worrying thoughts about health or the readjustment to a faster pace after months of a ‘go slow’ broach to life under lockdown. This is not altogether unusual. In fact, psychologists refer to it as the Re-entry Syndrome.
So, what exactly is the Re-Entry Syndrome?
The American Psychological Association, describe it as the stress and anxiety associated with the impending disruptions caused by the fear of being unable or unwilling to readapt to previously established routines and environments.
As we cautiously tip toe into the new post-Covid19 dawn, the Re-entry Syndrome may present itself as anxiety around adapting to our new social norms and physical environment, as well as the establishment of new constructs (behaviour patterns) around our perhaps now modified values and what we deem to be important.
In recent weeks, the term Coronophobia was coined and popularised by the media and Generation Z. It is defined as fear of returning to life once lockdown is relieved. These fears may range from the stress of commuting to work on public transport; or returning to an unpleasant work environment with uncooperative colleagues or clients; to the worry around adhering to safety measures. The confusion and perhaps self-consciousness may persist, until we have taken time to adopt and familiarise ourselves to the latest rules and etiquette of this, what is now our new normal.
What might our new normal look like?
Undoubtedly, face masks will be part of our outdoor uniform for the foreseeable future. Savvy entrepreneurs have created and are selling masks to colour co-ordinate with outfits. Although, it must be noted that not all management of public places accept this type of mask, it is advisable to check before you venture out. Traditional socialising of old (i.e. one which we meet family or friends and perhaps share a meal or drink free from inhibitions) will be parked probably until we ‘flatten the curve’ or find a vaccine (whichever comes first), and the void left will be filled with Zoom or Teams virtual socialising events, where we can look dapper, have fun and most importantly stay safe. Our homes and our bodies will wear a perhaps comforting universal fragrance, with top notes of ethyl alcohol masked with a citrus or floral base in the shape of hand sanitisers and disinfectants.
Hugs and handshakes are a thing of the past, instead we may choose to greet people with the Indian Namaste or the “Wakanda Forever” salute from the Marvel movie Black Panther. We may experience continuous trepidation as we venture out from our homes, reinforced by the mandatory temperature checks at malls; marked-off empty seats at doctors surgeries, dine in facilities and public transport and of course social distancing monitors dotted throughout our supermarkets.
Fortunately, there are steps and techniques we can practice to develop our resilience; that is our ability to withstand adversity and bounce back post Covid-19 to ready ourselves for our new way of life.
The 4 A’s to prepare for the changes to our lives after lockdown:
It is important to acknowledge and not suppress your feelings or thoughts. Suppression often leads to amplification, making the primary issues seem unmanageable.
Confront your thoughts and feelings by seeking support from a professional and or a trusted confidant.
Scheduling in a ‘worry time’ is a cognitive behavioural technique which helps to avoid incessant rumination about the situation by working through the worry in an objective manner.
Acceptance of any given situation is something that cannot be forced. It is instead about perspective, the lens from which we see the world. It may take time and introspection, but ultimately, when we decide to accept this new world after the coronavirus, we can create fertile soil for different and resourceful ways of thinking.
Forward planning whether on paper or in your mind helps to lighten any load. This Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) time-line technique helps to diffuse emotional anxiety. If during the planning stage there are situations or people that begin to make you feel uncomfortable, then take pre-emptive control. You can do this by practicing saying “No” to demands made of you; or by circumventing situations such that you feel may place you in harm’s way. If the unfavourable situation were to arise then you can be confident to deliver the outcome you practiced or prepared yourself for.
Control the controllable. When you feel overwhelmed, alter the things that will make a difference to how you think and hence how you feel.
De-clutter your headspace by putting pen to paper, write down your thoughts.
A frame provides the context for our thoughts, feelings and subsequent actions. Changing this frame (or reframing) can have significant influence on how we interpret and react to the said experience.
Modify the language you use in your inner dialogue. Reframe your negative thoughts to those that reflect positivity and optimism by being curious and asking questions to direct your focus. Our mental focus is a like a camera lens, we can choose where and what to zoom into. Questions like, “What am I grateful for today?” “What am I looking forward to?” “What am I happy about?’ will enable you to tackle challenges from a constructive and optimistic frame of mind.
Anxiety and overwhelm are made of images that are on repeat in our mind’s eye. NLP teaches that by changing these negative images, we can change their emotional impact on us. For example, if the image you see is in colour, drain all its colour, so that it appears white-washed. If you see yourself in this image, step out and imagine reducing its size until you can squash it between your fingers. Then flick it away. Notice how the feelings associated with the image before have changed. Repeat this technique until the negative emotions dissipate.
From a glass half full perspective, the unprecedented clear blue skies across the world accompanied by the obvious existential threat just a cough or a sneeze away, Covid-19 has gifted all of us with a great pause, where we have had the time for introspection and reflection.
There is one thing that is certain, this virus which measure 60-120nm in diameter has changed the world forever. Consequently, as a society we have modified how we think, behave and interact with each other, perhaps deliberately or unconsciously. As the days and weeks pass by, these modifications are set to evolve, much like the virus itself. However, when we purposely sculpt each passing day with optimism and the framework detailed in this article, our new normal will surely be something to look forward to and not to be feared.
-Tess Pereira is a sought-after Transformational Coach and Talking Therapist in Dubai. She is a Master NLP Practitioner with over 15 years of experience empowering clients to make positive changes