As the hospitality industry reopens its doors this weekend, I can’t help but feel haunted by that overused phrase; ‘new normal.’
The insistence of us all to use the word ‘normal’ makes it feel like there’s a sense of urgency to adapt to the new world.
To immediately accept it, in all its weirdness, and get used to the idea that ‘no, it won’t be like it was before, but just bloody get on with it, will you?’
That’s the subtext that I’ve been reading, anyway.
It’s true enough that we humans are incredibly adaptable and capable beings. More so than we give ourselves credit for sometimes – just look how many of us managed to work from home to some level of success over the past few months, even if we’d never done it before.
But this adaptation doesn’t necessarily happen without consequences. Yes, we adapted to a difficult situation, but at what cost?
For myself, I navigated the raucous coronacoaster with a morbid fascination and a higher-than-average level of curiosity. Since I work in wellbeing and mental health, it presented a singular and rare opportunity for a global case study and a chance to evaluate my own reactions to an extremely stressful event.
But I wasn’t immune to the emotional impact of that.
My mood crashed numerous times, particularly during the early, raw weeks.
I found myself challenged with the enormity of the situation and the apprehension in my household and local community. I’m extremely sensitive to the moods of people around me and walking down the local high street turned into an exercise in restraint. I wanted to talk to perfect strangers about our collective heartbreak around losing our old lives and let people know that it would all be ok in the end.
But a lot of people on the street fell into a steady routine of avoiding eye contact and jumping into roads to give enough passing space. It was an alienating and surreal time which I’m still struggling to shake the discomfort around.
Just because we were able to adapt to a new way of life and perform the basic functions (going to the shops, continuing to work, keeping ourselves fed and watered) doesn’t mean that it didn’t affect us on a deeper level.
Many of us have gone through a collective experience of grief, as explained beautifully in the oft-cited and wonderful article by Scott Berinato, which you can read here.
We have gone through a phenomenally uncomfortable, uncertain and stressful time, and to think that it hasn’t affected us deeply would be naïve.
In short, trauma causes problems, whether psychological, physical, or emotional. These traumas were numerous and varied in nature and sustained over a long period of time.
To think that we will ping back into shape like an elastic band would be to undermine our complexity as human beings.
If you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus and are still struggling to function, that’s completely understandable.
If you feel nauseous at the idea of going back to the pub, you’re not on your own.
If you feel claustrophobic wearing a mask which is making you avoid public transport, that’s an experience a lot of other people will relate to.
To anyone that is feeling more anxious in the post-lockdown limbo than they did at the height of the pandemic, it’s no bloody wonder.
The whole world has changed, there’s still a lot of uncertainty and strangeness, and we’re just fucking TIRED. We’ve gone through a hell of a time, with the hardest of circumstances and it’s been completely exhausting for the majority of us.
My advice to us all is to practice a ridiculous level of compassion and self-acceptance over the next few months.
Try not to hold yourself to your usual standard of operating.
Drop any notions of what you ‘used to be able to get done’ in a typical pre-Covid workday.
Talk to people you trust and share some of your concerns. You might be surprised to find how many of them are shared by a lot of other people in your network, and they might be able to give you tips, advise and coping strategies which might be useful to you.
My own management strategy over the past few weeks has been to reinvest time in my spiritual practices. This is an area of my life I tend to neglect during times of upheaval, but it is the single biggest comfort me, so I decided to give it my undivided attention during a week away from the business.
In prioritising my spirituality above everything else – business included – I’ve been able to facilitate an inner sense of calm, strength and surrender which has made me much more resilient than I’ve been for a long while.
It’s also had the happy side-effect of bringing me a ridiculous level of clarity to help me with aspects of the business that I’ve been struggling with, but that’s a story for another day.
If nothing else, I’d suggest a simple reflection exercise to you all:
- Put some calm music on, grab a journal and list all the challenges you have faced down during the last 100+ days.
- Think about these situations in detail and write about the impact that the circumstances had on your mood, your family, your ability to focus and your overall wellbeing.
- After you’ve finished, write yourself an apology for giving yourself such a hard time. Whether you’ve been berating a low mood, feeling guilty for ‘not working hard enough’ or feeling frustrated at a lack of progress. Give yourself an opportunity to recognise and accept that shit has been HARD, and the fact that you’ve made it out the other side is nothing short of incredible.
I’d like to raise a glass to all of us this weekend (from the relative safety of my home, rather than the pub.)
Here’s to our collective strength, resilience and courage in the face of next-level weirdness.
Congrats for the level of grit we have all demonstrated thus far. Long may it continue to serve us as we keep walking nervously into the unknown.
We’ve got this.
If today’s blog strikes a chord with you, please feel free to send me a DM on LinkedIn. I may not be able to help you directly, but it can be cathartic to share concerns with someone who ‘gets it.’