Reconnect with Your Joy: A Post-Pandemic Survival Guide
After two years of being in and out of lockdown, profound disruption to life routines, activities, and missing hobbies, friendships and community, the world is slowly regaining some sense of cautious normalcy. Blinking your eyes in the sunlight, as you come out of the cave of lockdowns and loneliness, the world — and perhaps yourself — may feel somewhat unrecognizable.
Speaking to dozens of friends, clients and colleagues over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a common refrain: “I don’t remember what I like anymore.”
But with vaccines here and the world re-opening, it’s time to reimagine life and reconnect with your joy with this post-pandemic survival guide!
But first, let’s talk about why it might feel extra hard right now.
Losing What You Love Sucks
When we don’t have access to the things that light us up, it’s easy to forget we ever liked or wanted them in the first place. After two years of cancellations, Netflix binges, and thwarted plans, it might feel impossible to recall what you like and what you want.
And even if you do remember, you might experience a ton of resistance to starting them up again.
There’s a good reason for that!
When we experience stressful or traumatic situations, part of the way our bodies cope is by not letting us feel what we are feeling right away. This self-protection lets us handle what we need to survive, without those messy feelings getting in the way.
This works great when the stress is acute or short-lived. The problem for many people in the post-pandemic era is that the past many months have been one long, stressful, painful slog. For some of us, the end is not yet in sight. There’s a reason the New York Times suggested that “languishing” might be the dominant emotion of 2021. Forgetting what you like and what you want is self-protective. But it’s no way to live.
As the intensity of the past year starts to lift, you might find yourself surprised to be feeling worse at first, not better. This is a common reaction and part of the process of integrating what all has happened. Once it starts to be safe again, it’s safe to feel all the crappy feelings you may have been blocking yourself from feeling.
While this experience can be confusing and suck deeply, don’t worry, it won’t stay this way forever. It’s a sign that things are starting to get better.
Joy and Desire Live In Your Body
Embodied activities are typically sources of joy for most humans around the world. These are activities that make us feel things. Many of these experiences we also like to do with other people or in a collective, such as:
Singing in a group, choir, chanting, or harmonizing with others
Dancing, whether at a sweaty nightclub, a barefoot jam or partner dancing
Seeing art, going to museums, taking in culture, and sharing it with other
Going to concerts, shows and performances with a live audience
Sharing meals, potlucks, dinner parties, or going to restaurants
Making music, jamming with other musicians, drum circles, or band practice
Team sports, group exercise classes, races and competitions
Drinking, getting stoned or otherwise altering consciousness with other people
Making out, cuddling or hooking up with new people
While some people have really leaned into their exercise, creative or musical practices throughout the pandemic, for others, that has felt far too emotionally challenging.
Similarly, many people reported a drastically reduced libido, with little interest in sex, being physical with their partner(s), masturbation or fantasy. Your gender expression may have felt hard to access (RIP to my red lipstick and big earrings – masks hate you). Even singing alone in the shower might feel vulnerable.
If that’s you, you’re in good company.
It might feel uncomfortable or even impossible right now to do things that involve feeling in your body, even when these are things that used to make you happy. The push/pull of “I remember liking this, but I don’t wanna do it” is a common one.
Three Pillars of Embodiment
It’s going to take some time to re-remember the joy over the fear, but you can start with the basics. Start by taking a peek inside your body and see what it feels like in there, and what wants to come out.
Okay, Marcia, but how do you do that?
Three things I use for getting back into the body are breath, sound and movement. These are the pillars of embodiment. From there, it is often easier to remember the specifics of what you like and want.
How long have you been holding your breath? I found myself so many times over the past year just barely able to take a deep breath. When I did, I would often start getting teary-eyed. (I don’t know about you, but breathing around other people has been terrifying for over a year.)
You don’t have to take a deep breath necessarily. Perhaps instead, just take a moment to watch your breath and notice what it is doing. Then, if you feel like it, play around with breathing into your belly, into your back, through your nose and through your mouth. There’s no wrong way to breathe, so you can’t mess it up. All you need to do is just notice it.
Singing along to the radio while I’m driving is one of my favorite ways to make sound, but to be honest, I didn’t do a lot of driving this past year. Crank up a favorite song, belt out some old blues tunes, or sing karaoke off-key. Do it alone or with a loved one. It is the exact opposite of trying to be good at it. In reality, the thing that really helps is to be LOUD at it.
Other ways to make sound include humming, making noises with your lips, doing big, dramatic sighs, whimpering, shouting or yelling, and imitating animals. It’s surprisingly liberating!
I’m not talking about hitting the gym here (although if that works for you, go for it.) What I mean is moving your body in ways that feel good to you. It might be stretching, wiggling, or going r e a l l y slow. It might be throwing plates at a wall or jumping on a trampoline. It might be rolling around on the floor or running barefoot through the fresh-cut grass. It could be as simple as dropping your shoulder blades while you wait in line at the store.
This is the kind of movement that you can’t really plan for, as it’s about discovering what literally moves you in the moment. Allowing yourself the space and curiosity to move in ways that feel good to you is a powerful gift.
8 Things to Keep in Mind as You Find Your Post-Pandemic Happiness
1. Resistance is normal.
You may feel grouchy, crabby or even hostile at the idea of re-engaging with activities you once loved.
But remember, it took over a year to get to this place. It’s going to take a while to get out.
We’ve spent over a year drastically re-calibrating our sense of “what’s safe,” and that process is still continuing. Recognizing that we are safe again and that it’s okay to be with people, after so many months of that being off-limits, will take time.
2. Be patient. There’s no rush.
As I talked about in my end-of-pandemic feelings class, you do not have to make all-or-nothing decisions about jumping back into things. You could, for example, set a conservative boundary for how or when you will engage with an activity, then choose a date a month or so in the future where you’ll re-evaluate what you want to dip your toes back into. You don’t have to make all the decisions now.
Remember also that everyone else is also mucking through their own post-pandemic re-entry path and trying to synthesize their discoveries, fears and priorities as well.
3. Expect big feelings and/or tears.
When you start to re-engage with things you love(d), you might feel BIG feelings.
Partway through the pandemic, I tried dancing barefoot on my partner’s hardwood floor for a one-hour DJ set, just the two of us. I couldn’t get through 15 minutes without sobbing about what I had lost, and I haven’t tried dancing “for real” yet. At some point I will though, and I’ll be bringing my Kleenex.
You may feel sadness, anger, rage or grief, or some incomprehensible mix of feelings. That is to be expected, and is 100% okay.
4. Take baby steps.
If singing in a choir feels like too much for a while yet, perhaps a short outdoor harmonizing session is a place to start. If dancing in a big crowd feels like a lot, maybe try clearing out the living room and having 3 or 4 friends over for a dance party. If sex feels unattainable, try 10 minutes of exploring what kind of touch feels good to you with no other goal in mind (you can do this with or without a partner). Take whatever step you have the least resistance to, but take the step. Whether it’s simply lying in bed with your partner, picking up a paintbrush, or dropping by a picnic for 5 minutes, it counts.
5. Gently push yourself.
When you’ve had something you love repeatedly taken away from you, it is easy to slide into believing that you can’t have it and that there’s no point trying to make it happen. Push yourself by recognizing that you still have capacity to engage with activities you once loved and that opportunities to engage with it are coming back into the world. Take steps to involve yourself, even if you can’t yet fully immerse yourself the way you used to. Challenge yourself to try.
6. Balance as needed.
The dance between taking it slow and pushing yourself may take a little while. Recognize there might need to be some back and forth. You might need to leave events early, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have gone at all. A party of 50 people might feel overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean you should skip a gathering of 10 people. Maybe you used to be able to dance for hours, but now you can only manage the feelings that come up for less than 45 minutes. Perhaps you used to be multi-orgasmic, but for now it feels too vulnerable to get close to that edge.
Remember that these are all “for now” feelings and you can move back and forth between what feels doable and your edges as many times as you want. As you do, you’ll find your capacity shifting and growing again.
7. Embrace the awkwardness.
It’s to be expected that you might not be as good at things as you used to be, whether it’s socializing, dancing, dating, making music, hosting a dinner party or sex. Drop the expectation that things will be like they used to be. While some activities might be “just like riding a bike,” it’s 100% okay if others are a little clumsy, awkward, or fumble-y for a while. You are not alone in this, and simply saying, “Well this is awkward” can help take the edge off.
8. Remember, nothing is forever.
We learned this lesson hard last year, but it’s a lesson that continues. It may be the case that something you used to be into no longer matters to you, or that it may not resurface in your life until sometime in 2024. Activities or people you love may not feel accessible right now, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be that way forever. There may be new discoveries from the pandemic-era that you want to keep (hello home cooking!).
Change is the only constant.
Re-opening moves at different speeds for everyone and you might still need some help getting by. If you could use some continued sustanance, download one of my Pandemic Support classes below. They are all available on sliding scale pricing, and can be found at my online course library.
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