Now that we have officially left behind almost four months of curfews and lockdowns and bid farewell to over a half a million people who lost their lives due to COVID-19, the remaining population has had to get used to a new way of living and new sets of drastic but necessary measures that are anything but usual. While the number of cases continues to rise in some countries, life is gradually normalizing, including in Turkey. Of course, this process, dubbed the "new normal," has brought along some new rules and a different routine. But how can we adapt to this new process and deal with the stress of changes brought by the pandemic?
According to Gözde Ceylan, a clinical psychologist at Işık University, there are simple techniques that can help you better adapt to this new process and put your mind at ease.
Stressing that the human brain loves routine, regularity and familiar activities, Ceylan pointed out that it can be stressful to cope with the pandemic, which has been causing us to live constantly on edge, in a state of alert, awaiting new sudden changes.
“We are living in times wildly different from our usual living standards and routines of over three months ago. Changes in our routines that came with the pandemic can cause us stress, as established routines make us feel safe. What one should keep in mind at this point is the fact that the stress created by change is normal and expected and we (inherently) have the power to cope with it,” she said.
Our brain, it turns out, is quite successful at adapting to change.
“Our brain builds 'neural pathways' throughout the day and remains constantly active in this aspect. Each of our emotions, thoughts and behaviors occurs through these neural pathways,” Ceylan said.
“Our brain builds new neural networks/pathways for new emotions, thoughts and behaviors, enabling us to adapt to existing events or remain vulnerable to events. And after enough practice (through time and repetitions), the brain gets used to these new neural pathways, which make it possible for us to adapt to the new conditions brought by the pandemic in these past months. Therefore, in this new process, the brain accepts this change as a new routine or a new habit and starts to feel safe with the construction of new neural pathways and sufficient practice," she said.
The stress of change
Stress in itself is a big burden on both the mind and the body, and the stress of change is one that can be particularly hard to cope with for some. But Ceylan says there is no need for one to be afraid of change; it is an opportunity for growth and something we need to embrace.
"With change, our reactions and our ability to live together with others develop and society benefits from this whole transformation. Change allows us to develop new strengths and review our priorities in our lives,” she said.
Ceylan gave the following suggestions to help us deal with change on a psychological level:
Be kind to yourself: Remember that accepting yourself as who you are is all you need to improve yourself. Don't forget that individuals who are compassionate and kind to themselves are more successful in being happy and enjoying life. They also have greater physical health, as mood and our state of mind can directly impact our physical well-being.
Explore your feelings and thoughts: What am I feeling? What am I thinking? Ask these questions to yourself and answer them truthfully. Dig deeper and don't be afraid. Remind yourself on the regular that you do not have to have positive feelings or feel happy and peaceful every single moment throughout the day, every day of the week. From time to time, you will feel sad, anxious, angry, doleful, intolerant and scared. Remind yourself that you have the right to experience every emotion.
Remember how you coped with difficulties in the past: Remember the moments in your life that you thought you would never overcome and all the difficulties that became insignificant in time. It is a good idea to remember what has challenged you in the past and how you have dealt with those things. You should also bear in mind that it won't rain forever and these difficult times, too, will pass.
Focus on what you have already accomplished: Remind yourself of all your past successes, big or small. Remember that banana bread recipe you tried for the first time that, despite it sounding difficult, really wasn't and resulted in a delicious load. Remember that important presentation you had to make in front of the whole school, department or company and how you thought: "I can't." Remember that difficult course you passed even though you were sure you'd fail in the finals. And remember all the things you thought would not go well, but in the end, you got through them all. These will help improve your self-confidence and the steps you take will help you focus on your goals.
Don't put (emotional) distance between yourself and your loved ones: The more emotional distance you put between yourself and your loved ones, the more isolated and lonely you will feel. Talking it out with your family and friends and checking up on them virtually will help you cope with the adverse effects of these uncertain times. Continue to maintain social distance, but make sure not to distance yourself emotionally.
Most important of all, give yourself time: It is impossible to change immediately. Expecting yourself to change and adapt to something new right away is unfair to yourself. Being hard on yourself will only make you feel more isolated and stressed. You need to realize that you will slowly get used to it all and mature with sufficient practice and time.
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