We’ve waited for the day when we could more safely come out of our homes and resume our pre-COVID activities. And, for some of us, that day is here. There’s excitement and energy around socializing with family and friends, shopping inside favorite stores and eating at favorite restaurants – all without having to wear a mask.
But, there’s also a less joyful side to all of this.
A whole lot of us are struggling with brain fog, fatigue, lack of motivation, and a variety of other symptoms triggered by the re-opening of society. I’ve heard this referred to as “Pandexit Anxiety” and, if you’re suffering from it, please know that you’re not alone.
Pandexit Anxiety is a real and normal reaction.
Each of us experienced the past year and a half in our own unique way. And, we’ll come out of it just as uniquely. Change – even change we thought we wanted – can be jarring and hard to settle into.
For over a year, we lived in an environment of violent news and lifestyle changes. Our brains, which are tasked with receiving and processing information, were operating in overload. They tried to protect us from the frenetic and traumatic energy by kicking in to fight-or-flight response. Also called “acute stress response”, fight-or-flight causes our brain and body to prepare to protect us from danger. Our entire body tenses and our internal systems are disrupted. After the threat is gone, it takes between 20 to 60 minutes for the body to return to its pre-stress levels. But, when too many threats hit us in a short period of time, we have a hard time recovering. We become so conditioned to the stressors that everything feels like a threat and we tend to stop trusting any periods of calm.
So, if life truly is moving toward more calm and less stress, those of us with Pandexit Anxiety are having a hard time seeing, feeling or believing it.
Please know that Pandexit Anxiety doesn’t have to last forever. Each in our own time, will find our way back to feeling better. Our minds and bodies like to be healthy, feel happy and connect with others. That’s our natural state.
Given the optimal conditions, we can and will regain our energy and anxiety will lessen. This doesn’t need to be done on society’s time, nature’s time or your overly helpful advice-giving friend’s time.
Yoga can help guide our re-entry in a gentle way that’s authentic to who we are. I’ve outlined three stepping stones to rebuilding a solid foundation for your personal Pandexit:
- Know that joy is our natural state of being.
- Develop a balance between stress and joy.
- Pandexit on our own terms without pressure from others.
Know that joy is our natural state of being.
Yoga philosophy tells us that suffering is not caused by external circumstances. The external situations can cause physical and mental pain but not long-term suffering. Suffering comes from our minds getting stuck in ways of thinking and, until we can acknowledge those patterns and redirect our thoughts, suffering will remain.
This does not mean we ignore or stifle our feelings. On the contrary. In fact, the practice of reclaiming our joy means we acknowledge all of our feelings and allow them to be a part of our life. We learn to observe how we’re feeling without judging it as good or bad. We learn to not blame ourselves if we feel sad or angry. We learn to be more comfortable with the entire human experience which includes both joy and suffering.
I’m not saying this process of returning to our natural state of joy is easy. It’s not. It takes practice and awareness. Most of all, it requires a belief that our joy is still within us and a commitment to helping it re-emerge. If it feels hard to fully believe it right now, try a softer approach of suspending disbelief as a starting point.
Develop a balance between stress and joy.
We can combine the yogic idea of returning to our natural state with the science part of the body’s natural function and rhythm. Basically, the body operates with two basic functions – intake of energy and elimination of waste. Breathing, eating, processing information – all of those functions are about a steady stream of in and out.
The transition period in that process is what we call digestion and it refers to everything we take in and send away. When we are at an equal state between intake and elimination, we feel better mentally and physically. But, when we are out of balance in either direction – taking in more than we release or putting out more than we replenish – we suffer. This suffering takes many forms ranging from sleep disturbances to stomach/digestion issues to back pain and much more.
Both 2020 and the first half of 2021 have bombarded us with news and events that are overwhelming. It all comes at us so quickly we barely have time to digest before the next wave hits and our brains start to adapt to the stress. Thanks to somatics and yoga, we have guidance for how to move back toward balance. It all begins with awareness of what we’re digesting and how it affects us.
FIVE DAYS TOWARD GREATER AWARENESS
For three days in a row, jot down what you notice about:
- Your intake. What do you read? Listen to? Watch? Talk about? Eat and drink?
- Your physical activity. What/when/how do you move your body?
- How you feel mentally, physically and emotionally in the morning and before bed. Can you identify specific intake or movements that increase your stress or your joy?
On day #4, read through your notes. Try not to judge yourself. Notice similarities from day to day, habits and patterns of what causes your suffering and your joy. Allow yourself to explore your patterns with a sense of observation and inquisitiveness. You could even ask yourself, “I wonder why I’m making that choice?”
On day #5, make one change to your intake and one change to your physical activity. Just one. See how you feel. Notice any differences, however small, to your overall mood and attitude.
Moving forward, consider making another small change to your intake and movement each day. Stay aware of your reactions and practice letting go of the things that throw you out of intake/elimination balance. Let change happen gradually and gently.
Pandexit on your terms without pressure from others.
Once you can recognize the patterns that might be keeping you from joy, you’ll have a clearer idea of what your authentic Pandexit can look like. Please recognize that we’re moving through this in the way that feels right to each of us. People who are ready for more activity might be eager for you to join them. And that might feel like pressure. Put your well-being first. Here are some ideas for how to do that:
Stretch out of your comfort zone – but not too much. What feels like a good starting point? Maybe it’s walking with a friend. Or seeing a group of people outdoors. Or going back into your favorite store for a few minutes while still wearing your mask. Build up slowly and don’t force yourself.
Physical symptoms are clues to what your body needs. If you are anxious, slowing your breath down is a simple way to feel calmer. Use extended exhale breathing – inhale to a count of 4 and exhale to a count of 6. Go through this cycle a few times to slow your stress response and allow you to move on gently.
Fatigue is a consistent symptom when we’re stressed. Rest as you are able. Sometimes fatigue triggers insomnia. Extended exhale breath can be a very helpful technique for those middle-of-the-night wake ups.
GIVE YOURSELF SPACE
Allow yourself to feel your feelings and give space to others to process theirs. Talk to people who help you support building your joy. Take a break from people who deplete you. Be compassionate with yourself as you heal. Take the time that you need to move toward your Pandexit.
Feeling stuck? Somatic yoga therapy can help you find your way out.
Somatic yoga therapy sessions are a supportive place for you to explore what’s holding you back from your joy. This isn’t talk therapy. Rather, it’s a way to honor all of your dimensions – your thoughts, emotions, physical attributes – while using gentle breathing, movement and mindfulness practices. A current client recently told me:
“This is the safest I’ve felt in over a year.”
Feeling safer during Pandexit is just one of the benefits of somatic yoga therapy. In addition, clients tell me they feel more at peace, more in control of their lives and physically stronger.
If Pandexit Anxiety is getting in the way of you feeling joy, let’s get started on creating your Pandexit on your terms. I’m seeing clients in my St Paul, MN studio or via Zoom.schedule now