Published 16 Nov 2021

How many of us have faced a major life-changing event that we’ve felt comfortably prepared for? Chances are not many. Understand the psychology behind transitions and how we can support ourselves as we move to COVID normal and in any other times of change.

Think back to the last time you had a major event or change in your life. Chances are you don’t reflect on it and think ‘Boom! I nailed it’ As humans, we tend to fear change. But as Dr Michael Carr-Gregg explains, with every transition is an invitation to grow. Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg recently presented to the GMHBA community on The Psychology of Change: Transitioning to COVID Normal. This fantastic 45-minute webinar is available for view, and you can read on here for the key takeaways.

Life is returning to normal, why am I so exhausted?

As we hit vaccination targets and return to ‘normal’ life, it's exciting for us to hit play. But if your brain wants to hit pause, you’re not alone. During the webinar, Carr-Gregg cited Chief Psychiatrist NSW Health, Dr Murray Wright who referred to the pandemic as “probably the most sustained and serious stress that many of us are going to face in our lifetime”. Our surge capacity is depleted.

A surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems – mental and physical – that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations. During the pandemic we’ve experienced unknowns, stressors and loneliness. After relying on surge capacity for 20 months, our brains and bodies are simply fatigued. We can only go on so long, and now we’re depleted.

But the good news is, there’s life at the end of this tunnel and with some recharge, taking our time, and supporting ourselves through this next transition we’ll be ready for this next step in our future.

Dealing with the anxiety around change

It’s tricky to start doing things that for so long we’ve told ourselves are too dangerous. T he two most common emotions people are experiencing after lockdown are fear and anxiety explains Carr-Gregg. We’re struggling with our mental health as restrictions lift and we’re scared of what life will look like post lockdown.

Avoiding ‘what ifs’

Our minds hate uncertainty. When we don’t know facts, our minds tell us scary stories to fill in the blanks. We tend to do this at night or unusual times. These stories are not helpful and if we focus on them, or ‘read’ them, we might add ‘chapters’ and the what-ifs can become overwhelming.

What is the alternative?  Instead of getting caught in these stories, we can name the stories, notice them, and diffuse them.

Acknowledging, reframing, and choosing what to focus on

It’s not an easy thing to let go of everything that has happened in the last two years. This is arguably the first time our generations have been asked to sacrifice our individual freedoms for the greater good. The cumulative effects of lockdowns, monotony, loneliness and loss of important experiences are a weight that will take us time to recover from.

Carr-Gregg explains that the two most important psychological strategies for avoiding anxiety of the unknown are to:

  1. Tell the story in a positive light, or ‘reframe’

We may be tempted to say ‘the economy is ruined, and businesses will never recover’ from the pandemic. Alternatively we could look at the previous events and consider that as ‘more and more people are getting vaccinated, lockdowns will become less necessary. Then business’ can pick up again.’

The pandemic has happened, we can’t change that, but we can be positive about what is to come.

  1. Focus on what you CAN control

A great way to separate what you can and can’t control is this brainstorming technique.

Step 1. Get a piece of paper and draw a large circle on it

Step 2. Inside the circle, write down all the things you can control

Step 3. Outside the circle, write the things you can’t control

Step 4. Let go of all the things outside the circle as you have no control over them anyway

Carr-Gregg explains that sometimes things are so heavy, you just have to let go.

 How to support yourself and others

  • You don’t need to jump into everything all at once. Make sure you’re giving yourself the space and energy to support work, family and life.
  • Keep looking after yourself. If you postponed medical or health checks this year, make them now
  • Watch Dr Michael Carr-Gregg’s webinar in full. He’s a charismatic presenter and it’s a very worthwhile 45 minutes. 
  • Listen to our range of podcasts
  • Mindfulness is a wonderful way to take a moment for yourself. 



Geelong waterfront photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash



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