Reopening Doesn’t Mean Returning to Normal: Learning to Accept Change
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been notorious in my family for having trouble accepting change. Although I would say I’ve improved a lot in the past few years, I could feel my family members collectively brace themselves for how I’d react when the pandemic shut everything down in March.
At first, the trick for some was to remind ourselves the changes were temporary and everything would be back to normal soon enough.
We were wrong.
Even as our country makes progress with reopening, public life is still far from “normal.” It’s now apparent that returning precisely to how things were before COVID-19 would never be wise. Working from home could continue for many, masks aren’t going anywhere, and having my hairstylist check my temperature before entering the salon feels more appropriate than weird.
The permanent changes emerging can be overwhelming to both think about and live through. Thus, it is imperative to find ways to cope with changes we have no control over to reduce that stress.
Here are some strategies I’ve learned this year for accepting change:
Let go of expectations
Having something to look forward to is a wonderful feeling. However, there is a fine line between excitement and expectation. An attachment to a fictionalized version of the future sets us up for disappointment and resentment.
There is a Buddhist teaching that suggests a healthier perspective. Achaan Chah, a Thai mediation master, explained that although he admired his goblet’s beauty, he thought of the cup as already broken. It was guaranteed that one day it would fall to the ground and shatter. Since he accepted the glass would eventually break, Achaan Chah understood that every moment with it intact was precious.
There’s nothing bad about hoping for certain things out of life. But, as you daydream about what you want the post-COVID world to look like, remember that it’s not a matter of if something won’t go according to plan. To begin accepting change, we must recognize that things will go wrong. And that’s OK!
When something goes wrong in your life, just yell “Plot twist!” and move on. #WednesdayWisdom pic.twitter.com/BevZrR14AO
— B&N Customer Care (@BN_care) September 5, 2018
Give yourself some grace
It is always good to have goals for both your work life and personal life, but be sure to manage the expectations you have for yourself. Remember that this is still a period of adversity, and it’s important to take it easy on yourself.
Making mistakes happens to everyone, especially when we’re stressed. You must give yourself some grace when you don’t accomplish a goal or aren’t proud of how you responded to a situation. When life throws a 100-pound problem your way, it’s reasonable that you won’t perform your best immediately.
One psychologist, Katherine Dahlsgaard, suggests thinking of this period as involuntary enrollment in Pandemic 101 and grading yourself on a curve. Before you go to bed, give yourself a grade for the day and automatically add one letter. The idea is to continuously put your accomplishments in the context of what you’re going through.
Express your emotions
Accepting change is not a pretty process. It would take a special kind of person to snap their fingers and suddenly be OK with everything. Initial feelings of anger, fear, frustration, and grief are natural responses to change, and it is essential to find healthy ways to express them.
According to a study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, bottling up emotions can make people more aggressive. Furthermore, while it can be tempting to suppress them, that approach can damage your long-term health. The chance of premature death increases by 30% in people who bottle up feelings, and chances of a cancer diagnosis increase by 70%.
Instead of bottling up, find a relaxing creative outlet to express yourself, and consider working through intense emotions with a professional therapist. Make time to reflect on what you’re experiencing; many benefit from journaling, ranting aloud to themselves, and taking long walks to think.
It’s easy to see the upsetting changes. (Broadway officially won’t reopen until at least January 2021!!!) But focusing just on what’s different, scary, or frustrating is sure to lead to bitterness.
Try shifting your focus to what will remain the same. According to Harvard Business Review, the best way to encourage a positive attitude about change is to emphasize a vision of continuity. Next time you catch yourself lamenting how 2020 has turned the world upside down, turn the conversation for a few minutes to highlight the areas in life that have stayed consistent.
It is also helpful to focus on moments of joy. Even when it feels like everything is going haywire, remember that there are still some positives in the world. I often take pictures throughout the day or write a list before I go to bed of all the small moments that made me smile. I’ve found that accepting change comes easier if I can document and prove to myself that happiness still exists.