Rediscovering our pre-pandemic personalities - Michelle Gibbings

In this article for, Michelle says too much time spent alone during the pandemic can change people more than they realise — but as the months pass we can all shake off any emotional hangovers.

Have you ever had a time when you forget what it felt like to be you?

I was reminded of this when I was meeting some colleagues for drinks after work, and I didn’t feel like going.

It was rainy and cold, and I was working from home. So, getting dressed up and heading into town required extra effort.

I was conjuring up a myriad of ways to get out of it, but I couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t come off as rude.

So, I kept the commitment. Guess what? I loved it. We laughed. I cracked jokes. They laughed. We smiled, connected and had loads of fun. I left feeling energised.

It struck me on the way home that I had forgotten that I’m an extrovert.

Not the extrovert who dances on tables (well, perhaps in my younger days), but a person who derives energy from being with people.

Sure, I need downtime, but I had recently had too much alone time due to lockdowns and workstyle changes that I had forgotten where I derive some of my energy from.

Research suggests that the last couple of years have changed people’s personalities.

As the New York Times reported: “COVID has not only reshaped the way we work and connect with others, it has also redrawn the way we are.”

The research contends that we have become less extroverted, creative, conscientious and agreeable.

I’ve been informally testing a theory that there’s an emotional lag from the last couple of years.

In every session I’ve run, I’ve asked: “Who here feels like they have an emotional hangover from the last couple of years?”

Approximately three-quarters of participants have put their hands up.

My straw poll suggests that many of us haven’t ‘bounced back’ to feeling how we were before the pandemic.

However, I am starting to see shifts in 2023. Just like all hangovers, there is a way through to the other side.

It starts by acknowledging your feelings and working through the emotional dialogue.

Putting on a brave face won’t help. Being able to label and talk about how you feel will help.

We shield people from our true feelings for many reasons.

For example, because it doesn’t feel safe to share; we don’t want to worry them; we don’t think they will care, or we don’t want them to think less of us.

Connected to this is the way we judge emotions. We label them as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

For example, anger is seen as a hot and explosive emotion, while contempt is seen as a cold emotion; both are labelled negatively.

Happiness is seen as a good emotion, while contentment is seen as a calm emotion.

Yet, they all have one thing in common — they are an emotion that has arisen because of an interpretation your brain has placed on the event you are experiencing.

Bruce Perry, in the book, What Happened to You? writes that any long-term effects from a stress event are related to several factors.

These include the nature of your stress response, as well as the intensity and pattern of that response.

In making your way through this, it all starts with acknowledging how you feel.

Accept those feelings as real and legitimate. It can help to label the emotions you are feeling. Write them down. Get them out of your head.

Then, dig into the meaning you are giving those feelings and what they are telling you to do.

Your emotions matter. They change your physiology, perception, and where you place your attention.

We have feelings in the body that are associated with different emotions. These markers can be clammy hands or the quickening of your heart when you feel anxious.

Notice that physical reaction and where you are directing your attention, as well as what you are ignoring or avoiding.

Next, consider what you can and can’t change about what is happening around you and how you can shift your perspective to focus on what you have (rather than what you don’t have).

Lastly, consider the options to reframe the meaning you are putting on what is happening and what you can do to shift that state.

In doing this activity, recognise that the process can take time. Sit with it. Embrace the discomfort.

Lean into the learnings you are gathering because you will come out the other end more resilient and with deeper insights into yourself.

For leaders, you will want to pay attention to the emotional environment you are creating at work.

Ask yourself: Is it safe for you and your team members to talk about their feelings? If it’s not, you have some work to do to create a healthy and supportive environment.

As Dale Carnegie wisely suggested: “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.”

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