Thu. May 19th, 2022

I recently learned that bears trigger their hibernation by eating huge amounts of food – up to 100,000 blueberries a day. They effectively settled into the natural version of a diabetic coma. They have evolved to burn excess weight effectively in the few months so that they appear lean and healthy.

In the first few weeks after their lockdown, however, they go through a stage known as “mystery sleep”: they sleep more and more, do not eat much, and do not travel very far. They naturally and sensibly facilitate the transition to normal bear life – slowly.

Although lockdown has been difficult in many ways, for some of us it has also been a kind of hibernation. It has been a simpler time; fewer decisions to make, fewer interactions with others, more couch time.

After the lockdown, how will we ease into our riddle? We must expect it to take some adjustment. I work as a clinical psychologist, so here is an insight into how I have broken it down with my clients.

Two women walk in front of a socially distancing LED sign on a boardwalk
Many clients have told me that lockdown has been a time to reevaluate what is important in their lives.(

ABC News: Dean Faulkner

)

We still need to make an effort to do that

First, there is our psychological adaptation. Throughout the lockdown, the number of people seeking treatment for stress, depression and anxiety has been enormous. Like most psychologists, I am so busy that I closed my books to new clients several months ago. However, it has been good to note that with time and support, many people are now reporting an increasing capacity to cope.

We know we can not assume that getting out of the lockdown will magically erase the struggles of life. We still have to put time and effort into our mastery. On top of that, we want the extra adjustment of managing the return of old expectations and responsibilities from before our sleep.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • In the first few weeks (or months), how will I balance going out more with adequate relaxation at home?
  • If I have the choice, how do I negotiate working in the office and working from home?
  • How do I adjust my budget for changes in spending patterns?
  • As I am increasingly out in the community, how will I address my concerns that COVID is still present? Who should I talk to about this?

What are your limits?

Second, we need to adapt to new social norms when we are more with others. We have become so used to not touching each other! No hugs, handshakes or greetings. For some this has been unbearable, but for others a relief.

We will have to decide for ourselves how much we want to reactivate this. And especially how we want to let others know what we are comfortable with.

I suppose it’s better to let people know early. For example, the preventative “Great to see you! But I still just wave” is preferable to the awkward avoidance when someone moves in to the hug. For those who love a good bear hug, remember that some have invisible vulnerabilities and still need to avoid physical contact. If you are unsure, be the first to ask what others are comfortable with.

Here are some other questions you might be asking yourself:

  • If I come across people who have chosen not to be vaccinated, what is my attitude towards physical proximity with them?
  • How do I express this with respect?
  • The potential sensory overload of being back among many people, with light and noise, can feel overwhelming. Should I do this in stages and / or give myself permission to leave events early?

Figure out what matters

Finally, our self-care and spirituality may have changed in lockdown. For some, regular hiking, yoga or art with an app have been healthy new activities to begin with. For many, the lack of their team sport or gymnastics routine has left a relationship and training room (and some of us have also eaten a few too many blueberries, so it is uncertain whether we will appear “lean and healthy”).

  • What self-care rhythms will I continue?
  • Is this a new season to do something different for exercise or creative expression?
Two people hug each other in masks at an airport
A preventative “Great to see you! But I’m still just waving” is preferable to the awkward avoidance when someone moves in for the hug.(

Reuters: Carlos Osorio

)

Many clients have told me that lockdown has been a time to reevaluate what is important in their lives. We have had to come to terms with our lack of control. Some have reconsidered relationships or their purpose in life. Some have joined a faith community or are thinking about how to reconnect with their spirituality.

So one last question:

  • How has lockdown affected me in assessing what is important in my life?

While the bears’ hibernation is seasonal, we are only just beginning to learn the art of getting healthy again. This may seem like a lot of questions to consider, but preparing yourself for the upcoming adjustment will hopefully help you ease the experience.

After all, paying for our entire selves – psychologically, physically and spiritually – is just the price of being wiser than an ordinary bear.

Leisa Aitken is a clinical psychologist working on the northern beaches of Sydney. She is a PhD student at the Center for Public Christianity.

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