Compassion in Times of Transition

By Jennifer Gruel, LPC

As things open up more and more, I find myself vacillating between excitement and terror.  Whole hearted enthusiasm and feeling overwhelmed.  I identify as an extrovert and I have missed people.  Since March of 2020 I have been home with my kids, assisting in teaching the first grade as well as working in my spare bedroom with two dogs and a cat panting by my door.  The opportunity to rejoin the world initially left me feeling exuberant.  Yet I found myself struggling with a racing heartbeat when first confronting all of the unmasked faces in the grocery store.

I heard a confession from a good friend; “I am just not ready for everything to open up yet.  It’s a lot”.  She was referring to all of the expectations from friends, family and work now that many restrictions have been lifted.  As a self-identified introvert, she reported really struggling with having to engage with others so much more than has been the standard in the past year.

Okay, so as an extrovert who is supposed to rejuvenate in the company of others; why do I feel so exhausted?  Maybe it is because I signed up to do all of the things I missed so much.  Maybe it is because I am out of practice.  Maybe both.

In the past, summers have been a time for relaxation, vacations, long beautiful days spent with our favorite people.  A break from school, organized sports, and scheduled activities.  Even network television goes on hiatus.  It has been a time of leisure and connection.  So why are so many of us reporting feeling overwhelmed, tired and/or anxious?

I think a lot of these feelings result from living with heightened anxiety for a long time.  It makes sense we may not be certain how to take the next steps or even which steps to take.  Long term anxiety can show up as physical symptoms: stomach aches, headaches, muscle tension.  Other symptoms common in long term anxiety include irritability, sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, feeling keyed up or on edge, and being easily fatigued.

So, it makes sense I am tired.  And excited.  And still anxious at times.  What about everyone else?

I believe after such a long time living in cautious uncertainty this summer is playing out quite differently than summers in the past.  Some people are signing up for absolutely every option.  Others are staying home and waiting for assured clearance.

Listening to my clients and friends, it is interesting to notice the impact on families and friends as everyone determines what is right for themselves.  Through this pandemic we have been told to give others space to stay safe and protect our loved ones.  As we come back together it makes sense that we may be a bit unsure what this looks like, or how we fit in.

It is okay to want to hug every friend you have.  It is understandable if you would prefer to skip hugs in lieu of a distant wave.  Some people want to ride every plane and see as much of the world as possible.  Others feel best settled into a home routine that is safe and predictable.

We can make decisions for ourselves and we can lend compassion to others whose choices look differently than ours.  We can invite others to join us where we are and we can send our love to those who are not with us at this time.

I think it is important to acknowledge that moving out of long-term anxiety takes time.  It is okay and in fact really normal to have dynamic feelings about what is next.  Our feelings will not always match those around us and that is understandable.  Although we have been a part of a global pandemic, we have all had very different experiences.  We are getting through this and will continue to progress.  There is hope.

Whether you checked all of the boxes, are moving slowly, or still tucked in at home; consider what relaxes you.  What rejuvenates you?  When do you feel most connected to those you love?  Practice listening to your own voice and choosing what feels like the best option for you at this time.  Trust that this will get easier for all of us.

I wish you all a beautiful and safe summer.