September 26, 2022 by Peter B. Laird
Finding Your New Normal in a Chaotic World
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it new levels of stress, anxiety and isolation. But even when a pandemic isn’t sweeping the world, most of us encounter life-changing challenges that test our coping skills and resiliency. How do we survive and thrive during chaotic times?
It’s about finding your “new normal,” something that is different for each individual, said a group of mental health counselors with Baptist Health, who recently led a free community webinar, “The New Normal – What Yours Will Look Like.”
“Normal changes over time,” explains Amy Exum, licensed mental health counselor. “What is normal for me today was not my normal 10 years ago. My mind is different, my body is different. When I think about the new normal, I think about being in a place that is working for me. It is somewhat comfortable and brings some structure to my life. But that really differs for each person and can even change from moment to moment.”
Some people have a problem with the word “normal,” a word that can be difficult to define. Commonly, the term means average or typical, not something most of us strive to be. It may help, counselors say, if you think of your normal as the place you find balance in life.
Certified therapeutic recreation specialist Beth Ruhmann says she hasn’t heard anyone describe the last two years as the best of their lives. According to the World Health Organization, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a 25 percent increase in anxiety and depression worldwide.
“Most of us have faced huge dips in the road,” Ms. Ruhmann says. “We tend to expect everything to be fabulous. A straight road, no dips, no speedbumps, no curves.” That mindset can create difficulties, she warns. If, instead, we expect life to throw some curveballs our way, we can learn from our experiences. “These ups and downs help us build resilience. These lessons are valuable for our growth.”
The pandemic aside, life-changing events can range from the loss of a job to a serious illness or death in the family, or a move to a new town, a marriage, divorce or having a baby.
When you feel yourself off balance, drifting from what you consider normal or feel like you are stuck, consider these tips:
- Let yourself cry, be angry, grieve. Acknowledge that you have been hurt and allow yourself to experience emotion.
- Lower your expectations. “I’ve always had high standards,” Ms. Ruhmann says. “But if I take a step back and lower my expectations a bit, it puts less pressure on myself and on others. I don’t feel that deep level of sadness or feel let down if someone didn’t do what I expected.”
- Flip the script. As you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed or realize that you are spending more time worried, angry or sad, change course. “It is usually a process over time before we reach a breaking point,” Ms. Exum says. And while it can be good to have a plan, understand that it is okay to change your plan.
- Live in the present. It’s fine to miss the life you had before but reliving the past over and over may do more harm than good. Think about the moment you are in. Put your mind in the activity you are doing, the conversation you are having.
- Practice self-care. The counselors practice what they preach. Among their go-tos: mindfulness, meditation, reflecting on gratitude; exercise; music, art and other hobbies they enjoy; spending time with people who make them happy.
- Ask for help. “It’s important to check in with yourself and others when going through big changes,” says Manuela Rodriguez, a behavioral health specialist. “Ideally, we talk to others when we find ourselves in these situations. We talk to loved ones and friends, a life coach, a mental health counselor.” See some resources, below, to help you find a therapist.
Experiencing a pandemic is certainly new for almost everyone on earth. “When we first heard about the pandemic, it was called novel. It was new. None of us has gone through anything like this,” Ms. Rodriguez says. “It has shaken all of us to the core. The fact that we are still functioning is a great testimony to the strength we have and our ability to work through problems.”
Those who are suffering a mental health crisis should not wait to talk with someone and should call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. Beginning July 16, anyone in the U.S. may call 988 and they will be connected to the lifeline. It is free and available 24/7.
In May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, and throughout the year, Baptist Health is offering a number of free mental health programs. Click here to view the calendar. For more information on Baptist Health behavioral health services, go to https://baptisthealth.net/services/behavioral-health.
In addition, throughout May you can receive 25 percent off a 45-minute mental health consult through Baptist Health Care On Demand by entering promo code: SELFLOVE25. The consult is regularly $99.