Holistic Guide to “Return to Normal” in Pandemic Times

Are you going back to work after months of working from home and finding that it's hard to do things like you did them before?

If so, you're not alone.

I've been hearing from my clients that there is an expectation that things should run just as before the pandemic, with the same processes, presumptions and efficiency. Yet, folks are having trouble not just showing up on time and getting projects done on deadline, but also in showing up to the "best" of their abilities (based on a past definition of best).

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This leads to frustration for everyone.

You might be experiencing a different kind of challenge, too. Something more personal and internal.

If so, this guide is for you. In it, I'll help you understand the larger forces at work and provide recommendations for doable methods to help you feel better. As a holistic life coach, I take a mind-body-spirit approach to solving problems, so that you can take a fully human approach to finding balance in your work and life.

{If you want to skip straight to the guide, click here.}



The State of Balance in the world & in you

In Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India and sister science to yoga, we view human beings as being a part of nature. This means that the energies and patterns we observe in the natural world also exist within us. Our bodies, minds and emotions express them as characteristics of body type, personality, and states of physical and mental health.

Ayurveda loves to simplify complex systems into simple frameworks to more easily understand how these forces play out in our lives. The 5 elements are one such framework that I'd like to share with you to help you better understand your feelings & challenges with going back to normal.

The 5 Elements

According to Ayurveda, 5 elements make up everything in the universe. Kind of like atoms, except that they function on a physical, mental and emotional level.

The 5 elements are:

  1. Earth
  2. Water
  3. Fire
  4. Air
  5. Ether

Earth: is the energy of stability, groundedness, stamina, well-nourished. In excess it's attachment, stuckness, stubbornness over sentimentality, excess mass, depression, lethargy.

Water: is the energy of grounded flow/movement, creativity, unctuousness, sexual & self-expression. In excess it's inertia, stuckness, ungrounded sexual energy, depression.

Fire: is the energy of manifestation, transformation, of taking action in the world & following through. In excess it's anger, resentment, jealousy, over-work, perfectionism.

Air/wind: is the energy of subtle movement (like the life force). In excess it manifests as too much movement in the mind, body, & speech. Also as anxiety, overwhelm, racing thoughts, and internal or external dryness.

Ether/space: is the energy of our greatest potential & spiritual connection. It's boundlessness, endless possibility. In excess, it manifests as ungroundedness, difficulty in fitting into the world & fear.

{Watch my video introduction of the 5 Elements here.}

What elements do you experience most in your life right now?

The 5 Elements & the Pandemic

The pandemic saw our healthcare, production, distribution and other systems break down. It impacted every human life, affecting work, family, finances, health, careers - pretty much destabilizing everything.

The elements of air and ether embody this experience. Like hurricane force winds, our lives were tossed about, pulling up our roots that once gave us stability and comfort. The uncertainty, fear and anxiety along with it, expanded into the boundlessness of ether (think the emptiness of deep space).

This created a profoundly ungrounded, insecure state, worldwide, which translates as trauma for many, many humans.

Being human in a pandemic

Anytime a human body/mind experiences change, it creates stress. You then require extra energy to adapt to that stress. The greater the stress, the greater the energy needed.

Energy - know as Ojas, or vital life force in Ayurveda - comes in a finite amount. When you use more than you regenerate, you have less energy to live your life. In other words, you have less energy to do the same things you were doing before. They get harder.

Your resilience to stress then goes down, as well as your ability to handle change.

Even if you were at home in quarantine, not working, it was NOT a vacation. You had to adapt to change, sometimes a lot of it or sometimes not as much. Even if the big changes felt far away, it's like knowing that a hurricane is just outside your neighborhood. Your body knows it. Your nervous system knows it. It has an impact even if it hasn't hit you directly.

From the perspective of the 5 Elements, they all got out of balance. The extreme excess of air and ether (anxiety, overwhelm), ripped out the roots of roundedness (earth, water). Fire (the ability to do things) either dampened or became a reactive, nervous, must-stay-moving-to-avoid-total-collapse energy. This can feel deeply unbalancing.

The challenges of returning to the work place

Pandemic isolation was not a vacation. It was an extremely ungrounding, depleting experience for many of us. This leads to exhaustion, overwhelm, anxiety, difficulty in adapting, emotional reactivity, depression, and the list goes on.

With low Ojas and whacked out elements, it can feel really hard to be in this place and be expected to fulfill work duties as if nothing has happened.

We're not robots - even at work. We're human beings. Our emotions and experiences create the foundation of our capabilities as workers.

So, now what? How do you truly return to "normal"? Or a new place of equilibrium?

How to return balance

From the perspective of the 5 Elements, you cultivate earth and water. These are essentially the opposites of fire, air and ether.

Earth and water embody grounding energy, stillness, stability, taking action from a place of structure and support.

How can you translate this energies into what you do &  think?

This is where self-care & self-awareness come in for a starring role. I'm going to share some of my favorite techniques with you. None of them are new (some are 1000's of years old). It's not so much about finding the right one but about choosing the one or two that you can do consistently and integrate into how you live your life.

Practical Guide to Going Back to Work

The Self-Care Menu

SuggestionHow it helpsPut it into practice
Align your mind & manage your emotionsThe nature of the mind is to react and distract, creating lots of drama and exhausting your energy stores.Use a process like Daily Mind Alignment to empty out the junky thoughts and consciously choose how you want to think and feel each day.
Schedule anchors in your dayHaving activities that you do on the same day and/or time create points of stability in your dayDo one of these at the same time every day:
  • Eat a meal
  • Wake up/go to bed
  • Exercise
Get deep rest regularlyCalms the nervous system by allowing it to relax fullyOptions:
  • Do yoga nidra at lunch time
  • Do restorative yoga before bed
  • Get acupuncture or massage weekly
  • Go on a 3 day weekend where you can unplug and lay around
Slow movement practicesSlower physical activity helps to settle the mind, process stress chemicals & nourishes body. Vigorous exercise can increase the air element and use up your vital energy.Suggestions:
  • Slow vinyasa yoga
  • Qigong
  • Walking in nature
  • Swimming
Nourishing food choicesMake food choices that support grounding.
  • Choose foods that are warm and moist (soups, Dahls, cooked vegetables); avoid dry foods.
  • Eat plenty of healthy fats
  • Avoid cold foods and beverages (iced beverages, raw veggies), as well as caffeine
Mindful eatingHow you eat affects your body's ability to digest food. Proper digestion affects your overall stress levels.
  • Take 3 deep breaths before eatingEat one meal per day in silence/distraction-free

Support yourself with herbsAdaptogens & restoratives (rasayanas) help your body reduce stress & improve bounce-back times when you do experience stressHerbs can be a personal fit. Do your research and talk to your medical provider. Here are some great options:
  • Chwayanprash (a blend)Ashwaganda
  • Shatavari
  • Banyan Botanical's Stress Ease

Spend time in natureNature can have a calming and energizing affect on the body. Regular exposure to nature helps to cultivate more earth and water, thus bringing more grounded energy into your life.Some suggestions for deepening your relationship with nature:
  • Eat one meal per day outsideBegin or end your day with a short walk, taking time to appreciate whatever amount of nature you have access to
  • Have fresh flowers or plants on your desk and take breaks to appreciate them throughout your day
Do breath work (pranayama)Pranayama connects you to your nervous system and allows you to calm yourself into a more relaxed state, which uses less energy.
Can be done as a daily practice like exercise or linked with other activities like:
  • Before calling a client
  • Before lunch
  • While sitting at a red lightWhenever you go to the bathroom

Some great intro breathing exercises to search for on YouTube are:
  • Sama vrtti - even breath
  • Nadi Shodhana - alternate nostril breathing
  • Box breathing

Practice concentrating the mind (dharana)This is another technique tool to reduce the reactivity of the mind and the resulting drain on your vital energy.Any activity where you're completely engrossed and have reduced external stimulation, such as:
  • Coloring a coloring book
  • Playing rhythmic music
  • Dancing

Meditate (dharana)Exercising the mind and detaching from thinking & drama by practicing being 100% in the moment.There are many forms of meditation. Choose one and try it for a few weeks, giving yourself grace to be a messy beginner. You can find guided meditation on apps like InsightTimer. The greatest benefit comes from staying committed to practicing, so if it's easiest to commit to 2 minutes per day, every day, then that is perfect.
Reduce external stimulation (pratyahara)Consuming less through the 5 senses means that your body and mind spend less energy processing stuff. Most of us spend our daily lives in overstimulating situations, which taxes your energy stores.
  • Have quiet time every day where you close your eyes and plug your ears. Use soothing music if your mind has a hard time.
  • Do intermittent technology fasting where you limit tech between certain hours (like from 6pm-9am)
  • Reduce the amount of information you bring in daily via the internet, podcasts & news

When your workplace doesn't get it

This is hard. How do we be balanced human beings in an inherently out-of-balance world? We each have to find our own balance within our lives but I do believe it is important to seek for change in the larger structures in which we live. While I'm no activist, I am a coach and believe deeply that each of us has a capacity for creating positive change in the world.

Here are my recommendations:

Ask yourself:

  • What small ways can I bring more balance to my work? To my workplace?
  • How can I shift my mindset so I do the same work and generate less stress?
  • How can I support myself outside of work to feel more at ease within my work?

Decide you want a change and request it. This might mean cutting your hours or changing roles. It could mean changing your work environment or even changing careers.

Advocate for change in your workplace. Your leaders are human, too, and are experiencing the challenges of going back to work in their own way. They need your voice to let them know what's important and what they can't see. Your perspective and experience matter.


If this topic struck a chord with you, I invite you to schedule a free coaching session. It's a phone call where you can share what's on your mind - and your heart - and be heard. It's not a sales call, just a supportive conversation.

Learn more and schedule here.