As a licensed marriage therapist and CEO of Vienna-based Group Therapy Associates, Esther Boykin specializes in healing trauma and relationships, including the relationship you have with yourself. And, according to her, the latter is essential as we look ahead to a reality beyond the four walls of our homes. Here, Boykin shares tips and tricks for properly transitioning to life once the stay-at-home order is lifted.
What is going to be the biggest challenge for people transitioning from this isolation period to a new normal?
The collective uncertainty. As a community, a country, we are going through a traumatic experience and have all really been forced to go into survival mode, which means different things for different people. When the transition gets to whatever the new normal is, we will have to notice and recognize that we are going to see something different than what we remembered back in February.
I think being fearful and being irritable is something many are going to experience, and they probably weren’t expecting it. It’s important to be compassionate with others—going into the transition with a mindset that, “I’m not sure how this is going to feel for me or for others, but that is OK.” So not setting expectations and being gentle both toward yourself and to others is essential, as well as maintaining open communication with family and friends.
How can people make this transition as easy as possible?
The main thing to ask is, “Can I bring what works best for me right now to the new reality?” In the first few weeks of this [stay-at-home order], people definitely noticed how they acted under stress and made changes based on those emotions. A lot of my clients who are extroverts have found that they actually do have a need for more alone time. Individuals need to translate this into the new reality. So, say daily walks really worked to calm the mind, you should implement that into your routine when you eventually return to work, school, etc.
How can parents help their kids return to school when the time comes?
Hopefully a lot of families have learned under fire what works for the kids, as well as the entire family unit. In general, every kid needs some kind of predictability and consistency. These initial changes happened with very little notice and we couldn’t do anything about that. As we move closer to going back to school, it’s important to sit down with kids and have that conversation about what might be scary about returning. Different kids take things in different ways, and many are going to be really anxious about knowing what’s safe. You can combat that with open communication, it’s the most important thing.
What is the go-to regimen you recommend people implement for maintaining overall mental health and well-being?
If you haven’t already, develop a daily, weekly or monthly self-care routine and stick to it. It’s going to be easy for people to think that now that isolation is done, self-care regimens are not required anymore, but that is so not the case. You need to continue to take care of yourself on a regular basis.
There are four basic quadrants to think about: What am I doing to take care of myself emotionally, physically, spiritually—in terms of your purpose—and how do I take care of myself in connection with others? I really recommend people look at those four areas regularly and give it a number, one through 10, to consider how well you take care of yourself in each specific quadrant. Then, pick and commit to one or two actions to change; things you’ll do a bit better. Whether that’s connecting with people in person or eating a bit healthier each day, it can be simple and small. However long isolation lasts, people should expect it to take at least twice the amount of time to settle into whatever our new normal looks like, and self check-ins will help with that.