The new normal : Adapting beyond adjusting
By Abhilasha Iyer
It has been 6 months since the nation has practically been shut down. Homes have become offices. The keyboard trays are extended plate holders, the Zoom whiteboard has replaced traditional slate blackboards and our homes have turned restaurants, and on weekends even confectioneries whipping up Dalgona Coffee and banana pancakes. The lockdown has confined us in the four walls with lots of time in hand and family for company. Friends and colleagues are 2D figures in thumbnails behind screens.
While we have caught up on the all "WFH trends", 6 months is time for us to step back and ask ourselves. Have we only found work-arounds such that the end justifies the means? Have we evaluated the process that leads to the product? We must acknowledge the new normal has taken a toll on our mental and emotional well-being, and in such times, it’s okay to not be okay.
While we only begin to make peace with that, merely adjusting is not enough, learning how to adapt to "the new normal" will help us function better, for our well being.
With all these questions buzzing in our mind, we spoke to Bhairavi Prakash, a Bangalore based organisational psychologist and founder of Mithra Trust which like the name means in Sanskrit, is a friendly guide that provides information and tools to make make mental health more accessible to each one, empowering us to make empowered choices. Bharavi chiefly works in the healthcare space where she has set-up and scaled operations for small and medium sized businesses. Her areas of interest are mental well-being in places of education and work, digital health interventions, & youth leadership. She often wonders how inspiring it would be if we approached mental health as a subject for wellbeing beyond just illness.
Read along as Bhairavi shares her perspective on not just acknowledging the new normal,
but also acting upon it.
The lockdown has elicited mixed reactions from everyone. While some have taken it in their stride, most of the population has been affected, physically emotionally and emotionally. The demography that seems most confused, scared and bored is our children. They have questions, but no one has the answers. In the light of this uncertainty, how can parents step up in acknowledging this new reality for themselves and their kids?
With how quickly many people are adapting to this 'new normal', most of us forget that there is an actual threat, a real threat that impacts our health- physical and emotional /mental. In response to this threat, we have been and continue to be in a fight or flight state. As much as we are adapting to this 'new normal' we keep forgetting about this threat and expect our mind and emotions to behave like how it usually would.
We've engaged with 1000s of young Indians as part of The Meh sessions since March and this is quite common. What parents can do is
a. Acknowledge that we are still under threat
b. Recognise that there are times when they themselves are not okay , recognise there are times when their kids are not okay and most importantly, accept that it's okay that to be not okay
This seems so deceptively easy but it can be quite hard to implement!
Once we have acknowledged and accepted the situation, the bigger challenge is to act upon this awareness. How do we put this into action, what’s next?
We've engaged with 1000s of young Indians as part of The Meh sessions. At Mithra, when we asked "How are you doing, really?" If one is overwhelmed, confused The Meh, is a word used to express a range of emotions from overwhelmed to listless, which basically mean, not okay. The Meh Sessions have been designed to focus more on the wellbeing than illness. Since March we have seen that most of us have not let go of our expectations from life, from ourselves, for our children from Pre-COVID times. For example, there is an unsaid expectation of ourselves to be as productive as we were, pre-COVID which has seeded productivity guilt, and needless to say increases screen time. We are operating with many of those expectations in this ‘new normal’ and are getting frustrated and not feeling okay when our expectations are not met.
The invitation to those reading this is to understand the underlying values beneath the old expectations and to reframe the expectations for this ‘new normal’ keeping the value as a base
It is time we take a step back and realise what was working for us then, which may not be working out now and let it go.
Keeping in mind that this circumstance has altered certain realities of what we knew, what are some expectations that have changed from the pre pandemic times to now?
One of the most pressing needs that applies to both a work from parent and a school from home child is screen time- what were earlier expectations v/s what is the revised expectation?
Increases screen time has led to decreased play time. Digital detox is a trend that's picking up now because being offline now, is the bigger luxury. How can we increase play time outside of the screen. The lockdown has unlocked the opportunity of being with our families. What are the things we can do together, that brings us together as a family. Schools must recalibrate their expectations of the school year, with the parents and children too. What does learning means? What does ‘passing’ failing really mean, then? What about the future ? What are we prepping our children for? What do you talk to them about when you talk about their future?
These are some questions that require us to step back and ponder together as a family.
What values have emerged as an anchor to tide these testing times?
This is a great self-reflective question to ask families - what is the value that’s come up for you and your family and how can you build on that.
How do we communicate these changed expectations to our kids, without scaring them?
How can we work towards these reset expectations together?
By using simple language and telling them how it is without placing the burden on them.
Many times parents share too much about a problem much without a plan on how to tackle it and the children think of it as their own to solve. Other times parents hide the facts and pretend that everything is okay when children sense that it is not. Deciding on how much to share is a decision based on the values you have as a family. Talk about uncertainty openly, talk about how your views of the future have changed, ask them what they think their future will look like, have conversations about what you’re working together as a family towards
In the space of mental health, we often hear and say, “It’s okay not to be okay.” We lack the knowledge or skill to carry the conversation in a helpful direction beyond that point. How do we approach such conversations?
It starts with showing demonstrating that when someone says they’re not okay, you’re okay with that. Don’t immediately jump to solving the problem or telling them they should be okay. Validate what they’re feeling even if you don’t quite understand it.
Ask how you're feeling , share how you’re feeling. Reaching out and reaching in will make the communication stronger. Set a family rule to talk openly about disappointments, failures, time when we have not been okay
Doing things together will strengthen bonds. Maybe you could discuss movies, books, songs and reflect on how they made you feel.
Here's some food for thought for us to conclude on. In case you're curious to know more about mental health and its importance, register for a Family Quiz that takes place every Sunday take a quiz with us here.