Excited to make plans again post-pandemic? How to ease back in without overcommitting

I am a widow in my early 70s and have been retired for several years. I have always been an active volunteer, leading several projects locally and regionally. I find myself overcommitted with committee meetings, fundraising challenges, Zoom calls, newsletter deadlines and more. I was so eager to get going again that I said “yes” to everything and now find myself in the same over-committed position as I was before the pandemic. Any pointers to “recalibrate” my life? H.M.

Many of us feel eager and even exuberant to get back to what we believe is our normal life. Several visuals come to my mind that can symbolize this abrupt feeling of change and relative freedom. For example, we are in a theater and the heavy red velvet curtain has finally lifted. Now the only thing separating us and the stage is a sheer almost invisible curtain, symbolizing our cautious approach to our emerging new life. Next, envision receiving the “get out of jail free” card from the Monopoly game; now we can easily move around to acquire more board real estate. Next, assume we are at a horse race and are watching the starting gate lift at the sound of the gun as the horses are darting out in a thunderous roar.

We are not in a theater, playing a board game or at a race track. Yet our collective pent-up energy is palpable. 

Having that drive and relative sense of freedom can easily lead us to want to do everything, even all at once. The most difficult challenge is to say, no or to say, “Perhaps I can do that in the future.” 

It is time to take stock. Royale Scuderi, a creative strategist and consultant who cultivates human potential, wrote an article for Lifehacker outlining ways to find balance and to get your life back. She suggests not changing everything at once but making small and slow adjustments.

Here are several of her suggestions:

Disconnect: Electronics has kept us connected in a lockdown with Zoom becoming a household word as well as an adjective and noun. We have had lots of screen time between Netflix, our smartphone and television. Smartphones in particular have become a problem as adults and children have become addicted to them. Here is an interesting and alarming fact: Smartphone addiction is linked to shrinking key areas of the brain, similar to drug addiction.

Say no: This takes discipline, some thought and priority-setting. It takes time to ask ourselves what is important. Say yes only to those activities or engagements that add value to your life. Consider ones that bring pleasure, joy and make a difference for an important cause. 

Make your health and fitness a priority: This is critical and important to set as a priority. Unfortunately, many of us pay attention to our lifestyle habits only after our physician writes a directive on a prescription pad. Continue walking, with or without your dog. Remember sitting is considered the new smoking. And if you smoke, don’t. 

Relationships matter: Stay connected to people and set aside quality time with family and friends. The pandemic has reminded us what it feels like to be alone. Now is our opportunity to make our days, weeks, months and years count with people who are important to us. Also, consider making time for new relationships including the younger generation.

Be kind to yourself: Give yourself a break. Consider an occasional facial or massage. Have your favorite glass of wine or a cup of coffee or tea. Have flowers in one or more of your rooms. Schedule a manicure and pedicure or even a foot massage. Take time to read a book midafternoon and maybe even take a nap. 

Allocate some alone time: For a busy person, this can be quite a challenge. However, it is important to have some quiet time to lower stress, increase happiness and creativity. Try something new such as meditation, writing, sketching, practicing some yoga or just sitting quietly for a few minutes each day and do nothing. 

Have fun. Have a good time and keep a sense of humor. A good belly laugh feels great and also is healthy. It improves mental and physical health and even life expectancy. A Norwegian study found that a sense of humor lowered mortality rates for women. 

You can find more of Scuderi’s suggestions at www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/10-simple-ways-to-find-balance-and-get-your-life-back.html.

H.M., Thank you for your important question. When you say no to some volunteer opportunities that either are too demanding or are no longer of interest, think about filling that new-founded time with some of these tips. And take your time. Stay well and safe and as always, be kind to yourself and others. 

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity