Commentary: Patience and permission in a pandemic

Can you feel that? The frenetic hum of life racing to get back to “normal.” Vaccines rolling out, restrictions lifting, and gatherings booking. There is finally relief after a long stretch of distressing uncertainty. Still, the race to get back to normal can be a source of anxiety for those of us feeling whiplashed from a pandemic that is not over. 

For over a year, we have been forced to view fellow humans as threats. Hugs and handshakes were potential napalm. Being in the same room together was prohibited. We were forced to find comfort in solitude and little pleasures with minimal interaction. The stripping away of life was a grief-filled process that challenged us to the core.  

True to human nature, we adapted, survived, and thrived. We extracted joy in the simple life and peace from the open spaces of our schedule. Our attention moved from endless distractions to foundational issues of society. We found our rhythm, our safety, and our sanity one day at a time. And now we face pressure to forget all of that and return to a pre-COVID pace of constant reactivity. 

If you are feeling stress at the notion of “normal,” this is natural. Our brains are not wired to adjust that quickly. For over a year, our amygdala has been on overdrive. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for actively searching out threats and initiating the fight-or-flight response to keep us safe. This response heightens awareness, releases a slurry of hormones, and prepares our body to run or curl up in a ball. We cannot simply shut off a stress-response that has been hard-wired for millennia. It will take time for the brain to process evidence of safety and allow the body to follow suit. 

Now is a time to practice patience for ourselves and each other. Allow grace to friends, family, and co-workers who are still shell-shocked and need space. It is fine to decline invitations if we are overwhelmed, even though we used to be able to do much more. Grant ourselves permission to keep our focus on what feels good and make time for more of it, knowing life is changeable and nothing is permanent. 

An elimination diet is an ancient tool used by physicians to identify food allergies. Major categories of food are cut out over time, down to a mono-diet of simple starches. The digestive system has an opportunity to pause before foods are reintroduced one at a time and monitored for reaction. In a sense, the pandemic has offered us an elimination diet for what we digest socially, secularly, and spiritually. It is a blessing, as we layer life back in, to determine what aspects of normal life fortify us.

This may be the most clear-minded you have been in your entire life. Take this opportunity to inventory and rebuild your life in a manner that aligns with your deepest desires, filled with satisfying relationships and actions that are meaningful.
Here are some realizations about what I want:

No mas!
  • Over-busyness: pre-COVID my calendar was full of appointments. I thought pushing myself to be busy was healthy, but in hindsight I was addicted to distraction. Now I book appointments that draw an enthusiastic “Yes!” 
  • Insignificance: I am no longer indifferent to life or my power. No one else determines my worth or place in society. I take up space and speak my truth in service to the greater good. 
  • Fear of getting older: At some point during the pandemic, I had to develop the will to take care of myself even though no one was looking. Getting to this place of internally motivated self-care has settled me in the pride of getting older. I celebrate the passing of time as a privilege denied many.  
Gimme’ more!
  • Quality:  It took a long while to find my peace during chaos and I am resolutely protective of it. Holding high standards for how I show up in life supports my mental health. 
  • Leadership: 2020 called forth a fierce and passionate leader in me. Playing small is not an option. It feels empowering to be active in my community sharing my unique gifts in specific roles that stretch me. 
  • Dessert: The sweetness of life is important, both literally and in my day-to-day encounters. 
  • Nature: Time outside fine-tunes my inner wisdom. It is pleasurable to hone my ear for bird calls, observe the changing skies for signs of rain, soak in the vibrant green of forests, and the soothing emerald of warm Gulf waters. 
  • Feeling good: Feeling good, not as temporary emotion, but as an overall quality of how life digests. I seek to enjoy relationships and engagements that light me up. It is tempting to confuse being responsible with suffering. But especially in times of extreme stress it is imperative to create good feelings that give our nervous system a break from being on high alert. 
What are you wanting more of in 2021?

Michele Smith, E-RYT (experienced, registered yoga teacher), is the founder of the Resiliency School where she leads in-person and virtual training to build personal and organizational resilience. Her boutique yoga/art studio and apothecary are based in Tampa Heights in a 120-year-old property that she renovated.  
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