Have you heard of Post-Pandemic Pressure related to Performance and Perfection? In my CBT practice and in my own life, I am witnessing numerous examples of this enormous post-pandemic pressure to put the pandemic behind us and get back to ‘normal’ as soon as humanly possible.
Post-Pandemic Pressure is Real
The pressure to pretend that the pandemic never happened is very real. It is like a kind of collective denial. I find it really strange that people aren’t talking about post-pandemic pressure and post-pandemic anxiety which are both totally normal responses to having lived through a once in a hundred years global pandemic. If only it were that simple. Pretend it is gone and it is gone. This doesn’t work and makes things worse. Unfortunately, the intense pressure to be post-pandemic (already!) is itself causing a lot of unnecessary suffering and ironically will get in the way of helping people to move past the pandemic in a healthy, natural and life affirming way.
As I often say to clients who receive CBT from me, awareness is everything because without it, we are doomed to stay on autopilot. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help cultivate this awareness and CBT provides many helpful tools to manage Post-Pandemic Pressure.
Post-Pandemic Pressure is an Anxiety about Performance and Perfectionism
As more and more people get vaccinated against Covid-19, there seems to be an unspoken expectation to get back to ‘normal’ as things were before the pandemic, as quickly and as intensely as possible. Perform your roles and responsibilities as if the pandemic never happened and do it perfectly.
Get the body back to perfect (when was it perfect)? Get the house looking perfect. Enjoy everything and everyone now and document it on social media (perfectly)
Now pressure to perform and / or be perfect is nothing new BUT since vaccination has begun the pressure to be doing well (even better than before Covid-19) is very real and very unhelpful.
We cannot get back the time we lost by trying to squeeze in 2 years of experience in the next few months. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us were exhausted and overwhelmed way before the pandemic.
Now we have been through a traumatic and life changing event. We are in various stages of grief. Healing cannot be rushed and pain cannot simply be forgotten. This was never true before Covid-19 and this is certainly not true now.
We Need Slow to Be The New Normal
It feels to me like there is an ultimate FOMO pressure – the message being, “Hurry up and try to live the best version of yourself ever right now and make sure that you don’t get left behind. Hurry back to work. Hurry to book your holidays. Hurry to see everyone you haven’t seen.”
“Oh and do make sure that you are doing Post Pandemic as well as those around you because we all know that we have to be post pandemic fit and post pandemic insta-worthy and post pandemic amazing.”
I don’t know about you but just the thought of all that is exhausting. We need more than ever to go slow with ourselves and each other.
It is as if we are supposed to immediately resume our former lives and pretend the pandemic didn’t happen. Who decided this anyway? No room for feelings. No room for silence. No room to think about things. No place to say to a friend or a family member, or a boss, or a colleague – “Hey I’m not quite there yet. Please give me some time. I need to get used to this.“
No room to say – “I am still scared. I still feel quite anxious, even though I am vaccinated.”
And most certainly no space to share, “I have new trauma and anxiety and fears to deal with now because of the pandemic and my old issues from before Covid-19 hit are also returning with a vengeance.”
We need to go slow. Really slow.
Using CBT to handle 4 kinds of Post Pandemic Pressure
CBT for Post-Pandemic Work Pressure
Many employers after having record years due to their employees working crazy hours and delivering above and beyond are infantilizing their staff with unrealistic demands that people return to the office 5 days a week from June. How ridiculous!
CBT Teaches us that what we do or don’t do affects how we think and feel. Taking action early can be very helpful. It is natural to be wondering what my work week will look like and will I have to go to the office every day. The truth is that many employers are trying to figure this out right now. They have never been through a pandemic before either.
As best as you can, let everyone at your workplace know your thoughts and feelings of what would help you and what you need professionally post pandemic. Encourage all of your colleagues to also speak up and make their feelings heard. Remind your employer about any milestones you achieved this year while working remotely during a pandemic!
CBT for Post-Pandemic Family Pressure
Understandably, after not seeing family members for over a year, there is a lot of pressure to meet again and make amazing memories. And then there is a lot of pressure to hug, kiss, touch, take photos, again make more memories and of course document it in a fabulous insta-worthy way.
All of this pressure to reclaim time is only fueling old family dynamics and pressures that existed way before the pandemic. It is normal to have conflicted and complicated feelings about seeing family members after such a long period of isolation. This has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with real understandable pandemic after effects.
CBT Teaches us that how we think affects how we feel and what we do or don’t do. It is natural to have many thoughts and feelings about seeing family again for the first time. Prevent any unnecessary pressure by sharing your thoughts with family members before the visit and asking for support. Ask them for their thoughts of the first visit and if they need anything to from you as well to help it go smoothly.
CBT for Post-Pandemic Friend Pressure
It is great to see friends after such a long period of time. But it is important to say that everyone is affected by the pandemic differently and each person will need to take his / her / their time in feeling safe again.
All too often, out of excitement perhaps, or fear of losing more time, and even losing friends, friends will pressure other friends to eat in a restaurant, have a drink at a pub, go to the gym, have dinner together etc and the pressure to do these things, prevents enjoyment from the activities or the time spent together.
My own view is that if a friend can’t respect that you are on a different timeline to them with regard to post pandemic life, they aren’t being a good friend and need to be gently called on it.
CBT teaches us to notice our feelings without judging them. Brené Brown talks about the power of vulnerability to connect us as fellow human beings. Use this time to tell your friends truly how you are feeling and ask how they are feeling. More often than not – they will be feeling similar things and you sharing with them will help you both to feel good about not necessarily feeling good all of the time.
CBT for Post-Pandemic Self Pressure
We can all be our own worst critics. Many people are comparing themselves to previous pre-pandemic versions and beating themselves up for not handling the pandemic as well as they would have liked, for losing fitness and diet regimes from before, for not pursuing hobbies like they once did, for losing interest in things and for experiencing greater levels of anxiety and depression.
We also put pressure on ourselves by comparing with others and feeling like we don’t measure up. This is not your fault and this is actually a normal and healthy reaction to so much going on.
CBT teaches that the way we talk to ourselves (both tone of voice and the messages themselves) affects how we feel about ourselves and our lives. Neuroscientists have estimated that the average person has between 60000 and 80000 thoughts a day and that more than 95 percent of these thoughts are the same as the day before.
Left on autopilot we can have many unhelpful thoughts every single day. Becoming aware of these thoughts can help us to program more helpful messages delivered in a supportive voice. Try to write down over the course of a day the unhelpful thoughts that you find yourself thinking.
Then consider how you would respond if a friend or loved one said those things to you. What would you say to soothe and support them? How would you say it? Then practice saying this thought throughout the day with the intention of saying it with warmth. The goal here isn’t to feel good or happy. The goal is to feel validated and supported.
Taking Care means Taking Your Time
Pressure to socialize immediately and with as many people as possible is a recipe for burnout even before Covid-19. The pressure to get back to work and get back to normal is not realistic for anyone.
We will all thrive again. In order to do this, we have to first heal.
And in order to heal we need to take our time and be gentle with ourselves and each other.
I’m a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Hawaii and an Accredited CBT Therapist and Registered Counsellor in the UK. If you would like my assistance in learning how CBT can help you handle post-pandemic pressure and thrive again, please feel free to contact me at my Honolulu clinic or my London clinic to set up a no cost / no pressure trial CBT Test Drive session.