Post-Pandemic Anxiety is a Real Issue – Here’s how to get more comfortable during re-openings
I wanted to share this timely article with you. We all have thoughts and feelings that we have never experienced before that are directly connected to the COVID 19 pandemic.
Right now, gathering with family and friends might feel exciting – and kind of terrifying. Throughout the pandemic most of us wanted nothing more than for our normal routines to be restored; to be able to go to the gym, meet a friend for dinner at a restaurant, go to the office and chat with our co-workers. It’s safe to say that many of us have longed for more human contact during the past year.
Now that the possibility of socializing with people is back on the table – or at least becoming more real every day – many are anxious about returning to pre-COVID gatherings. And, despite the excitement that come along with that, there’s also a good chance that you’ll be a little freaked out by all that extra exposure.
The truth is – those feelings are totally normal, and you should expect that it might take some time to re-adjust. Over the past year, we’ve been taught that everyone outside of our bubble – stranger or not – is a potential danger. Even the people we love were a danger. Our brains have been processing this potential danger for over a year. It seems kind of counter -productive to the whole “getting back to normal thing”, but there’s a reason- a few actually, – as to why so many people are feeling a bit of hesitation. Here’s what you need to know about any post-pandemic anxiety you might be feeling and how you can cope.
It took your brain a while to process wearing a mask- and it’ll take it a while to process not wearing one
As restrictions continue to be lifted, thanks to the use of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19, you’ll probably find yourself near people outside of your pod, either by necessity (if your employer requires it) or by choice (if you choose to attend a friend’s birthday gathering).
In these situations, it may take some time to retrain your brain not to worry about socializing with other unmasked people. We’ve become hyperaware of people around us. We feel like we’ve become the mask police: we don’t know other people’s conditions and don’t know if they’re carriers. We’re used to that now.
It took a lot of effort for your brain to adjust to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. You’ve trained yourself to monitor those around you – and are now trying to convince your mind that it doesn’t need to worry anymore. That’s a lot of training for the brain – we’ve really made a habit of considering other human beings a danger.
We still don’t know what’s considered “safe” in the post-COVID world yet
It may seem like we’ve been dealing with COVID-19 forever, but it’s still a very new virus – it’s only been around for less than two years – and health experts are still trying to figure it out, even as many countries continue the reopening process.
While the CDC has announced that it’s fine for fully vaccinated individuals to go mask free both outside and indoors, there’s still many questions around how, or if, unvaccinated individuals – and how risky it is to simply take people at their word when they say they’re vaccinated.
While experts are doing all they can to sort out how we can safely proceed, the uncertainty of the present moment might be adding to your anxiety about reentering society. It’s not even black-and-white yet what’s safe – there’s a lot of confusion. This can have a real impact on your mental health. Uncertainty and not knowing what to expect can fuel anticipatory anxiety.
You may want to dismiss the trauma and grief you’ve experienced over the past year – don’t do that
Think back to where we were at this time a year ago: there were no vaccines and the death toll from COVID 19 was climbing at a horrifying rate. It was extremely risky to enter public spaces without a mask and health experts were advising everyone to avoid making contact with anyone outside of their household. Now most adults have been offered a COVID-19 vaccine, deaths from severe COVID are way down and people are able to see those outside of their immediate family.
It’s good news, of course, but it can be difficult to reconcile the current reality with what we grew accustomed to. We’ve witnessed grief, some people have felt it firsthand. There’s a little bit of trepidation. We might feel hesitant to embrace the new post-vaccine reality for fear that the suffering during the past year will lose meaning. We didn’t have a sense of closure, and our brains want it to mean something. Residual emotions of the pandemic aren’t any less serious than the anxiety associated with a diagnosable mental health condition. The trauma from being in COVID is really scary, it is much like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Among the emotion that one might feel while reflecting on the tragedies of the last year is survivor’s guilt. That can be survivor’s guilt not only in terms of someone who lost their life but someone who lost their job, someone who lost their house and I didn’t. We feel guilty for being okay.
How to cope with the stress and anxiety you might be feeling right now
Your brain will probably be processing a lot of feelings the first time you return to the office or head to a large concert or other community gathering – and you shouldn’t necessarily ignore them. When you feel these feelings, it is really important to name them. Ask yourself, what’s really going on for me?
After you’ve acknowledged what you’re thinking and feeling, it might be helpful to make some solid plans to counter the uncertainty in the present moment. If you’re uncomfortable heading into a very large crowd, ask your friend how many people might be attending the gathering, so you know whether you’ll be comfortable attending. Know your boundaries and limits ahead of time. Ask yourself, what are you willing to tolerate? Is it your group size, mask wearing, the amount of time present – then stick to that plan.
If you’re struggling with a lack of closure for everything that has been lost over the past year, take some time to consider what you feel the pandemic taught you and what lessons you’ll be taking away from it. Take some time to reflect on what did it mean to you? What do you want to take out of this before you enter the world again? The pandemic, for example could have taught you that your self-care routine needed some serious tweaking, and it gave you the space and time to make those adjustments in order to lead a heathier lifestyle. Assigning meaning to the suffering of the past year might make it easier to transition into a post-vaccine world.
While there may be bumps in the road – each day in a post COVID-19 society will be different – it might be beneficial to focus on the silver linings of the pandemic when you’re feeling overwhelmed. If the pandemic has shown us nothing else: We’re resilient – let’s carry that forward.