Uncertainty, fear, and challenges never ceased during the pandemic, and most of us never expected it to continue for as long as it has. Here we are two years later and the phrase “return to normal” has been thrown around more times than we can count. It didn’t always feel like we were going to get here, but we can finally see the light at the end of this long and socially-distanced tunnel.
The world is opening up but for many, the uncertainty and fear doesn’t end here. For many, a new set of challenges have arisen.
“What are people going to think of my changed body?”
“How do I talk to people sitting right in front of me instead of on a computer screen?”
“How am I going to eat at social events?”
“What do I even pack for lunch?”
“Are people going to talk about their weight?”
If you have found yourself asking these questions, you are not alone. We are going through an unprecedented transition and the experience typifies discomfort for many people. Obstacles can be expected but there are things that we can do to ease the process. To support your journey, here are 10 strategies for emerging from isolation:
1. Practice self-compassion
Arguably one of the most important things you can do is be compassionate with yourself. Be patient. This is not a race and things are not always going to feel easy or go perfectly. Challenges and hurt are part of being human. We often feel like we are the only ones for whom things are difficult and that we are the only ones not getting what we want; this can lead to feeling alone and isolated. As voiced by Dr. Kristin Neff, suffering is our common humanity. Recognizing that all humans face challenges and make mistakes can help us move away from frustration and self-criticism. Work on giving yourself permission to feel your feelings with compassion and kindness.
2. Focus on connection
After two years of Zoom calls and virtual events, talking and socializing in person may feel like quite the foreign affair. You may feel out of practice and social events may be daunting. Give yourself grace as you navigate these scenarios and remember that you haven’t lost those social skills! Rather than worry about what others are thinking about you or how you’re coming across, place your focus outward. Focus on connecting with those around you. Feel their energy and enjoy being able to physically share the same space.
3. Remember your own goals
Conversations around weight change and the latest fad diet will (unfortunately) always be around. This can feel uncomfortable if you are working on moving away from that mindset. Remember, other people’s journeys don’t have to be yours. Focus on your own values, goals, and priorities, and know that these topics will take up less conversation space over time. In the meantime, consider unfollowing people on social media that promote dieting or make you feel bad about yourself. Here are some great Instagram accounts to follow instead:
4. Challenge yourself with eating socially
Going out to eat can be fun. It provides a chance to try out new foods, socialize, and best of all, not worry about food prep or cleanup! However, we know that this isn’t how it feels for everyone. For some, the uncertainty of eating out at an unknown restaurant may be triggering. We don’t have control over menu options, portion sizes, or how food is prepared. However, try to reframe the situation and reclaim the joy of eating out. View it as an opportunity to get back in touch with your internal hunger and fullness cues. Focus on the pleasure that comes from trying something new. Enjoy strengthening connections with loved ones and bonding over delicious food.
5. Be mindful
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. It’s easy to be preoccupied about the past or worried about the future. Mindfulness involves intentionally bringing full attention and awareness to the present moment without judgement. This has become somewhat of a lost art in our current age of constantly being bombarded with alerts, notifications, and unsavoury news updates.
Mindful eating is one way to practice mindfulness. Next time you sit down to eat, consider muting all notifications, putting down your phone, and turning off the TV. Pay attention to the aromas, textures, and flavours of the food. Make note of what you are enjoying and observe what you are not. Notice the changes in how your stomach feels and how satisfied you feel as you progress through the meal. The practice of mindfulness can help you reconnect with internal hunger and fullness cues.
6. Wear comfortable clothes
Having to go out and mingle in the world may mean stepping out of the sweatpants that were your home for the last two years. Putting together an outfit may feel overwhelming, especially if your clothes don’t fit the way they used to. Give yourself time to have a look in your closet and pick an outfit in which you feel mentally and physically comfortable. What this looks like may change over time and that’s okay. Being comfortable in your clothes will make you less body-preoccupied and this may allow you to connect with others and enjoy your time more. Likely, you are putting a lot more thought into what you are wearing than what others will notice. They will just be happy to see you in person and are likely not concerned with how you are dressed.
7. Reflect on your thoughts
No one is immune to unhelpful thoughts. However, if you find these occurring more than occasionally, take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is there sufficient evidence to support my unhelpful thought?
- Is there any evidence to contradict my unhelpful thought?
- What would a friend say to me about this situation?
- How could I look at this situation in a more balanced way?
Think through or write down answers to these questions to challenge those unhelpful thinking patterns. Doing so can allow you to look at your thoughts more objectively and help you see the situation in a different light.
8. Start small
Take it one day at a time and one step at a time. Remove the pressure to partake in every proposed event right away. It’s okay to say no, especially if it helps protect your peace. We often associate saying “no” with rudeness but setting boundaries gives us the space we need to recharge and allows us to respect our own personal goals and values. Start small and work toward adding new activities. Over time, you can slowly increase your exposure to things that cause anxiety or worry. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing right away!
9. Find a buddy
As is the case with many things, having a support system can make all the difference. Remember, you are not alone and other people are also trying to figure out how to move through this transition, just as you are. An “accountability” partner could be a source of encouragement when things get hard and help make this time feel less overwhelming. You can establish this relationship with a trusted family member, spouse, friend, or mentor. Be open with them about what you’re going through and how they can support you. When things are tough, they can provide a listening ear, a comforting hug, or a shoulder to cry on.
10. Keep going!
Emerging out of isolation will not be an overnight journey. There will be hurdles along the way and some days may feel harder or more uncomfortable than others. Allow yourself to feel the discomfort, but don’t give up. Know that it will not always feel this way.
Be patient and keep going.