Five Ways to Mange Post-pandemic Anxiety About Changes in Family Life
A great deal of attention is being focused on adjusting to a post-pandemic world as vaccinations make it safer to do so. A bunch of recent articles talk about post-pandemic social anxiety of being in crowded places and having rusty social skills in general. But few if any have addressed post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life.
Post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life – guilt
After being quarantined for a year, having had both shots of the vaccine, 26-year-old Adelle was going out to meet friends at a beach-side diner. It was her first time meeting people outside of her family and she was petrified. She had panic attacks in the days leading up to her social encounter, and wanted to retreat to bed. Adelle was experiencing post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life.
Adelle felt selfish and guilty about leaving her partner with their toddler, and dog for the first time in a year. Was it worth meeting friends and getting buzzed with them? Would she lose control and drink too much? Would she make a fool of herself and come home in a bad state? Was she secretly longing to be let off the leash, or was she having separation anxiety? The conflict was so great that a bout of stomach cramps and diarrhea made it impossible for her to keep her date. She was relieved, and realized that she was happiest playing with her toddler, taking the dog for a run in the park, and going out to eat with her partner Gary – not separating from him. For a moment, she eased the post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life.
Post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life – separation and loss
Separating from 3-year-old Liam was agony. Getting a nanny as Adelle prepared to return to part time work as a hair-stylist was terrifying. Not only was Adelle feeling the loss, but was jealous of the nanny who took her place. Spending her busy Saturday’s with clients who wanted a makeover instead of having the day with Gary, Liam and the dog making pancakes, watching kids shows and messing around together was like having her right arm cut off! Gary got to have Liam all to himself while she had to take care of clients! Stomach cramps and loose stools illustrated her painful conflict. Adelle experienced post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life.
Post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life – missing out on kids development
Justin, a 42-year-old restaurateur was relieved that his business survived the lock-downs by doing take-out meals. Now that everything was opening up, he looked forward to feeling the buzz of a busy kitchen and a noisy customer base crowding in at his French-Vietnamese fusion bistro. Just thinking about it gave him a massive adrenalin boost. But then a few minutes later that same adrenalin gave him a jolt of panic. He had post-pandemic anxiety about changes in his family life. He realized his long working hours meant that he would no longer be home tucking the kids in bed, reading them stories, or enjoying a movie with his wife when the kids were asleep. He thought about the busy weekends at the bistro – missing out on hiking, swimming or just lolling around with his wife and kids. The thoughts about what he would have to give up showed up in joint pain – right at the wrists, knees and elbows – which he used most in his job in the kitchen, serving and cleaning.
The lock-downs had created a bubble where he learned more about 8-year-old Duncan and 6-year-old Priscilla than he ever thought possible. It was sweet, magical and precious. But post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life painted a picture of losing that intimacy – of missing out on his kids growing up.
Justin and his 40-year-old wife Allegra had used the lock-downs to find a new rhythm with one-and-other. They came together making breakfast for the family, making room for their idiosyncrasies – blaming each other less. There were fewer arguments and competitions about whose job was more important and was therefore entitled to get the bathroom first. Justin and Allegra blended more harmoniously in their parenting roles, talking to their children about their school day on-line and the plans they had for their days.
The family found time to talk with each other rather than at each other.
The family developed curiosity about each other – they listened more and dismissed each other’s feelings less.
The family read each other’s need quicker and more sensitively.
Torn between the longing to return to normalcy and his new found closeness with his wife and kids, Justin woke up with pounding headaches and sweaty palms. The conflict between the two parts of him battled it out at night, leaving him worn out and scarred. He thought about how it was before the pandemic, when he was able to split himself in two and manage the bistro and the family. He wished he could do so again. But the experience with his family during the lock-down had deepened his connections with his family. He was gripped in post-pandemic changes in family life.
Now he could feel the tension in a way that wasn’t so easy to throw off or put to the side. How was he going to bear not hearing about his kids day-to-day experiences? Was it worth missing out on the kids development while he was busy late nights and weekends at the bistro? What would they think of him when he wasn’t as available? He had a lot to lose.
Post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life – how to use the losses to make gains
- Talk to your family about missing them – the shared experience will maintain the closeness and sense of unity.
- Recreate your routine to include quality family time. You don’t have to go back to work or ways of life to the pre-pandemic way.
- Reprioritize what you have found most valuable in family life and put those things nearer the top of the list so that you keep it front and center. If reading your kid a story at bedtime is special to you, make the time to do it a few nights a week. Or else you will feel the loss and regret it. Use it or lose it! The post-pandemic anxiety about changes in family life will be lessened.
- Make specific plans to spend time together and keep the flame of connection alight – you have already developed a keen sensitivity towards your children’s growth and development – so you can use it to notice and acknowledge the subtle changes. Chose to be part of it, rather than just hear about it and feel the loss or pretend you are too tired.
- Having a night out with friends or watching sporting games with them is important for your well-being. You get to switch off from the roles you play in the family. You’ll appreciate it all the more when you reunite. The key here is to think of it as attending to different parts of you that then get polished, oiled and ready for functioning in the family that requires maintaining a lot of important relationships – by you being true to yourself. Go out if you want, and not if you don’t want. If you let yourself be yourself there won’t be panic, guilt or anxiety.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2021
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