‘You can say no’ – navigating life changes with reopening

A social shift took place during the pandemic. People seem to want to be less busy.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 23, 2020, to last at least two weeks. After 15 months of a varied lockdown, Washingtonians are gathering again. The streets are full. Traffic jams are back. Celebrations and social invites are happening.

On Wednesday, Washington will move past the "Roadmap to Recovery" plan, and all businesses will be able to return to normal capacity and operation without restrictions unless they require it. The Seattle Mariners, for example, announced its first full-capacity game at T-Mobile Park since September 2019 on July 2 with a fireworks show and a special tribute to frontline workers.

While we are forever grateful for a sense of normalcy, a behavioral shift seems to have taken place for many of us.

Dr. Doyanne Darnell, UW Medicine’s clinical director for psychological services at Harborview Mental Health and Addiction Services, says she is hearing from many patients that they want to change their lives.

“There is this sort of life-or-death aspect to the pandemic, which creates a level of seriousness for people where they're reflecting on what is actually important in my life and who do I want to be spending my time with,” she said.

A common thing people tell her is that they want to be less busy.

“People have had calendars filled with activities that they realized they didn't enjoy doing that much but they felt a compulsion to do it,” she said. “So my advice to people is ‘So, don’t.’”

Darnell said the pandemic has shown us a new way of being in the world.

As we re-enter society, she said, people are going to feel anxious about how to negotiate being this new person and sustaining what has shifted during the pandemic.

Her advice is to practice saying “no.”

“What is going to be your way to say no to people? And again, you might want to practice that – kind of have it already written out or you said it a couple of times so it feels natural and you kind of stick by it,” she said.

Saying no is hard for many people because we hold on to a deeply held belief that you can only say no if you absolutely have to, according to mindfulness experts.

But as they point out, no doesn't mean you don't care. It means you can't be at your best if you say yes to everything. They say our bodies and minds need time to decompress and let stress melt away. Decompression allows us to have a refreshed mind and more clarity and gives our sympathetic nervous system a break. 

 Darnell said it’s OK to tell people that you need some downtime.

So, as you re-enter society, take things slowly. You don’t need to jump back into society full force. Take your time, the ultimate luxury in life.

-- Bobbi Nodell, bnodell@uw.edu, 206.543.7129


Downloadable media resources:

SoundBites-Log DrDarnell

Broll_navigating reopening

Embeddable Video_navigating reopening

SoundBites-navigating reopening.mp4

Audio-only DrDarnell navigating reopening.mp3


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Tags:psychiatry & behavioral health

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