Feeling off balance after 2020? Here’s why that’s normal
Despite small clusters of COVID-19 occurring around the country, for most of us, life is getting back to a ‘new normal’ in the wake of 2020 and the coronavirus. But if you’re still feeling affected by the year that was, you’re not on your own.
On the face of it, Australia has escaped the brunt of the very worst that the coronavirus pandemic has had to offer, particularly if you compare it to other parts of the world. As a result, many aspects of life in Australia are getting back to normal – albeit a ‘new normal’.
Still, while a lot of Australians felt their emotional and mental wellbeing at the end of the year was much better than it was a couple of months earlier, a recent survey shows that we’re still being impacted. The question is, why?
“I suspect there are a few things at play here,” says Professor Jolanda Jetten from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology and co-author of Together Apart: The Psychology of COVID-19.
“One issue is that even in locations where things are essentially back to normal, restaurants are still different, we can’t travel freely and we may still be wearing masks. Not only are these things a constant reminder of COVID, this is a new normal and that will take time to adjust to.”
Professor Jetten says another contributing factor is that things still remain unpredictable and, in many instances, beyond our control.
“I think a lack of control is at the core of this – and we feel shaken by that,” she says.
“We used to be in a situation where we could make decisions and plans, and feel fairly confident that nothing would get in the way of them. Now we’re a bit powerless and feel very aware of all the things we still can’t do.
“I think the other thing to mention is that while we felt like we were in this together as a country at the start of the pandemic, that’s not really the case anymore. In some respects, it’s divided the nation and become politicised and that can be tiring.”
Taking steps to regain your balance
The first thing Professor Jetten recommends is giving yourself permission to feel however you’re feeling right now.
“When there’s a clear cause for why you’re feeling ‘off’ – like you’re living in lockdown, for example – it can be easier to treat yourself with care and kindness.
“But now that things are getting back to normal, and particularly because we’re doing pretty well here in Australia compared to the rest of the world, it can be confusing. You may wonder why you’re not feeling more grateful and may even ask, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ if you’re still feeling fragile,” says Professor Jetten.
“Understanding that it’s okay, and even to be expected, that you’re still struggling will help you recognise that you need to do things to support your mental health and wellbeing, even though you might not have been seriously impacted by the pandemic.”
As well as reaching out to services such as Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service whenever you feel the need, Professor Jetten suggests two strategies.
“Taking 10 minutes every day to reflect on all that’s good in your life and to appreciate the small things, even something as simple as being able to take your dog for a walk at the beach, may help,” she says.
“Acknowledging things and activities that you enjoy and can still do, and making those the centre of your life, will help to shift your focus away from the things you can’t do.
“And because a lack of control may explain a lot about how we’re feeling right now, doing things to regain that feeling of control will help.”
Professor Jetten says taking steps to achieve a goal that’s 100 per cent within your control – whether it’s related to your health, home life or a hobby – is a good idea.
“It might just help you regain some of that sense of security and predictability that COVID has stolen from us.”