Sailing Past COVID

Sailing Past COVID

by Adam Clark, Secondary School Counselor and Theory of Knowledge teacher

As a YIS community, we are starting to see some return to normalcy with the state of emergency lifted, sports and activities back on at school and low daily COVID numbers that would have felt like a distant dream just a few months ago. Our families are like ships emerging from a relentless storm into the dawn of a new day with clearer skies and calmer waters. With vaccination rates in Japan suggesting a longer respite, we finally have a chance to see what damage we have weathered and make repairs. If you’re feeling like it’s not simply a matter of taking the reefs out of the sails and changing course, you’re not alone. All of us have been waiting for the time when COVID would lift, only now that it’s here, it might not feel like we expected it to. With that in mind I wanted to share three lessons we’ve learned during the storm that can help us chart our next course. 

One of the questions that comes up somewhat frequently is about the likelihood of having inflicted permanent damage by being with partners and children far more than we were prepared for. After all, doesn't it take a village to raise a child? Aren’t teenagers notoriously more interested in their friends than in spending every waking moment with their parents? Now finally moving past COVID, we worry about our kids reaching the typical developmental milestones having been away from in-person classes or having been isolated from their friends. Furthermore, in those moments of intense competition between a Zoom call with a client, children stuck in the house, a lunch that needs to be prepared, vacuuming that never ends, and a mountain of dirty laundry, we don’t always say things that benefit those around us. Looking back on the past 20 months or so, there may be things we’ve said or done that we regret and, in hindsight, that we’d like to have done differently. 

The Damage is Not Permanent - Fortunately, if there is anything we’ve seen with COVID it’s that our reality and our responses to it are ever changing. It follows that if things are subject to change, they will keep evolving or, in other words, that any damage done can be undone. It can be helpful to remember that the new world order imposed by COVID didn’t happen overnight but took months to settle into our habits and our psyches. If you look at how completely you adapted to remembering your mask and keeping social distance, you’ll know that neuroplasticity or the brain’s inherent ability to adapt to new situations is a key factor in our resilience. Over time neuroplasticity allows us to learn, adapt, forgive, and forget. 

Notice the Exceptions - We can also assist our natural process of adaptation by taking active notice of the exceptions to the patterns we grew accustomed to during the height of the pandemic. This might show up in your interactions with others where conversation is initially awkward but begins to flow more naturally or you find yourself not distracted by the risks of the three C’s. It can also be helpful to notice the exceptions in our interactions with family members when a child or a partner does something that could have annoyed us during a prolonged period of lockdown but can be seen again with fresh eyes and enjoyment. 

Turning Toward - Lastly, we can help repair some of the damage our relationships have weathered by noticing whether our interactions would best be described as a turning toward or turning away from. When forced to live in unnaturally close conditions, it’s not unusual to find ourselves emotionally turning away from those nearby to create balance with time for ourselves or in order to focus on the immediate tasks we have to manage. These repeated turning away from patterns, however, can leave ourselves and others feeling alone and neglected. As our school, communities, and families open up again, looking for those opportunities to turn toward one another to check in and connect can create opportunities for tarnished relationships to heal.*

While these ideas stand to be helpful moving forward, if you do notice that your, your family’s, or another’s situation or relationship feels like it’s stalled rather than moving toward a brighter future, it can be very helpful to get outside help from a professional counselor or other mental health practitioner. To discuss any of these or other ideas further please contact me or your child’s counselor at YIS. We’re always happy to help. 


* Turning To/Turning Away Behaviors adapted from Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)