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  • Writer's pictureDavid Nagai

The New Normal – After one year, we need rest

Updated: May 18, 2021

It’s been over one whole year since most of the world has faced the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone has adjusted life so much, and everyone is tired. But the pandemic continues and parts of Japan are still facing varying degrees of emergency and deep uncertainty.

So, what can we learn from the past year and how can we prepare for the next season as we strive not only to survive, but thrive?

We were all trying to survive.

As clinical psychologist Christine Runyan teaches in her work, this survival instinct in human beings has proven to be very useful for our survival throughout history. When we felt threats of attack our autonomic nervous system would subconsciously cause our bodies to tense up, increase our heart rate and blood pressure, stop digesting food, and help us act with super decisive instinct about whether to fight or flight – to fight or run away – and to take action. This was vital in those certain instances of threat.

However, in the long term, this intense reaction puts massive stress on our bodies and minds. What we need is to return to our parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us to rest, digest food, calm down, and live in a sustainable way. This is our balanced state ­– our normal mode.

The problem with this pandemic, though, is that the threat of COVID-19 has never fully disappeared. The enemy, after one full year, is still attacking us – at the supermarket, at the office, at the hospital, on the streets, and even to some degree when we receive amazon deliveries, handle groceries, or touch our smartphones inside our own homes. The enemy is invisible and spreading, and we don’t know where it might show up next.

So our autonomic nervous system has been in some ways “on” for one full year. This prolonged intensity and uncertainty has disrupted our routines, taken us away from our pastimes, and disconnected us from our communities. After a year of such instability, change, and isolation, thing have really built up. And now? Most of us are exhausted.

Dr. Runyan says that this ongoing stress causes tightness in the body, can decrease creativity and logic, cause irritability, forgetfulness, stress, and even a lowered immune system.

This can be difficult on a professional as well as personal, social level. The support from coworkers, friends, and family that we used to have is no longer as easily accessible, at least in the old ways of face-to-face connection. It’s a confusing time as we try to figure how to live, work, and relate with people.

Staying safe while also connecting is confusing. We’re always required to take precaution and measure the risk of every place we visit and everything we do and touch. Isolation can make people lonely or depressed. Especially for people living alone or who have more vulnerable health, this pandemic could make many of them feel like they’re isolated in a prison cell.

Many of us have used a lot of energy to creatively adjust to new ways of working and connecting with people. We’ve engineered new routines that have kept us both safe and productive and even connected. But we hit a certain point when we cannot just keep being more creative or work longer hours to make up for what we have lost.

At some point, we need to stop. We need to rest. We need to reflect, recharge, and refresh.

If we don’t? Well, our physical and mental health is at risk.

If we do? We can regain what we need to continue in this long-term pandemic that is the new normal for now.

This pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint.

But what exactly is rest?

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith argues that many people think that rest only means sleep. She believes that rest includes being restored and refreshed in areas beyond just physical rest, or sleep. These areas include, mental, sensory, social, emotional, creative, and spiritual. You can dig deeper into those ideas by watching her TEDx Talk here.

I agree that rest must be holistic and that each of us must figure out what it means for us as unique individuals with unique situations and unique solutions. I shared some ideas for rest and wellbeing in my article a while back called Coping with COVID-19 in case you’re interested.

My main goal in this article is to simply acknowledge that it’s been an extremely difficult year and to remind you that it’s important to rest.

In order to maintain health, creativity, and productivity for the long run, we have to give ourselves permission and freedom to take time to rest and regain our creative energy.

Because... this pandemic, my friends, is not over yet.

Now, I want to be honest with you here. I have struggled during this pandemic just like many of you. Even though I know I should rest in various ways, I have often been on high alert, trying to pivot and be productive and creative in my work and connection with people.

But, especially as we entered April, I felt a bit burned out. It’s like I ran fast for a year, and then I ran into a wall and was forced to slow down. I ran out of creative and productive energy, so I had to slow way down, and acknowledge that I am human, and I need rest in order to continue well.

It was confusing because as the spring flowers bloomed, my energy died.

So let’s not allow the pandemic to burn us out. Instead, let’s keep creatively experimenting with new small ways to add spice and life to our daily routines so that we can be refreshed and inspired.

Remember that everyone is stressed and tired of the pandemic. Many people are struggling to be productive or creative, or to do their best in this tough season. If you feel overworked by your company for whatever reason, don’t add further expectations for yourself. You can accept yourself just as you are. Working endlessly or worrying about being perfect every moment will only make you more tired and stressed.

Remember that you are human.

You are not a robot. None of us are.

Do your best and then rest. This is the cycle we need.

If you struggle to embrace rest like I do, here are some affirming statements for you to keep in mind:

I don’t worry about things I can’t control.

I am enough, I do enough, I have enough.

My health is more important than my achievements.

My value is not based on my achievement.

Everyone needs rest, including me.

It’s okay if I’m not always perfect. Nobody is.

Being human is messy and complex, and that’s okay.

Here are a few questions for you to ponder:

What are two specific ways you can get some needed rest this week?

What is preventing you from getting that rest?

What can you do to get that rest this week?

If you don’t get that rest, how will it impact your physical or mental health?

And once again… What will you do to get that rest this week?

Stay Safe. Get some rest.

Thanks for reading.


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