Handling the Uncertainty of Post-Pandemic Life
With about 60% of Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, things are starting to open up and mask mandates are dwindling. While this is the moment we have all been waiting for, now that it is here it can be hard to return to normal. Handling the uncertainty of post-pandemic life and the anxiety that comes along with that may be a struggle. Follow along as we discuss some tips for getting through this new chapter in our lives. Remember, if you are feeling anxious about 2021 and all it has to bring, you are not alone! In fact, a recent study by the American Psychological Association found that 49% of adults reported feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions post-pandemic. Furthermore, 48% of vaccinated adults reported feeling the same way. Together, we are all figuring out how to create a new normal that fits our specific mental state of mind.
Coping With COVID-19 Trauma
The bottom line is COVID-19 has been traumatizing for many people. The pandemic turned our lives upside down, deeming normal activities like eating out or seeing family members dangerous. One of the first criteria in diagnosing PTSD is being at risk for serious harm or death, or knowing someone at risk. So, even if you didn’t get sick, or know someone who died, you may still experience trauma from simply living through a pandemic. When you have labeled restaurants or grandma’s house as danger zones in your head for the past year, it can be hard to return to those places with no fear. Treat yourself kindly and try to acknowledge the trauma you may be experiencing.
Activities You Are Excited For
A good way to start feeling more hopeful about 2021 is to write a list of all the activities you are excited to do again. This can help shift your mind away from anxious feelings about the future and focus more on the positive experiences that could be waiting for you. The list doesn’t have to be full of crazy, exciting ideas; you may be excited for something as simple as going to the gym or getting your nails and hair done. The point is to create a sense of hope and optimism for the future and to push yourself to realize there are new possibilities for joy and normalcy ahead of you.
Reintroduce Activities Slowly
There is no need to jump back into activities at full speed. If you feel uncomfortable, always remember it is okay to say no. Just because events and activities are happening again does not mean you should feel pressured to attend, don’t force yourself to do anything that makes you feel unsafe. Taking things slowly and gently reintegrating into society assures that you will not over-exhaust yourself. If you agree to every opportunity thrown your way, you may burn out quickly after being cooped up in the house for a year. We are all out of practice when it comes to socializing, so take it slow.
Furthermore, if you are feeling social anxiety before seeing a friend or going out to dinner, this is completely normal and understandable. Try to remember there is a difference between being anxious and being safe. If you are feeling anxious before an outing, get clear about what you are trying to avoid. Do not avoid a situation under the excuse that you are trying to keep yourself safe from the pandemic. If you feel physically safe, but you are anxious about social interactions, take efforts to challenge the fear. Avoidance behaviors only increase anxiety.
Check-in and Accept Your Feelings
Keep in mind that all your emotions are valid right now as we try to get back to a place of normalcy post-pandemic. Try to avoid labeling your feelings as good or bad and instead accept how you are feeling without judgement. As you go about your business, don’t be afraid to share when you are feeling anxious or uncomfortable. The truth is, many people are probably feeling the same way or dealing with similar feelings during this period of time. You do not have to keep everything bottled inside, it is better to share where you are at and establish your boundaries with others because it might make things easier in the long run.
Another thing you may feel anxious about while reentering the world is that your life is drastically different than when you entered quarantine. Whether it be your body, your job, or your relationships, learn to accept your new reality and that things may never go back to what they once were. Transitions are inherently tough, so be kind with yourself as we transition back to a more “normal” lifestyle.
If you have tried to manage your anxiety on your own, but you are not making any progress, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. The key is to ask yourself to what extent is your anxiety getting in the way of your everyday life? Is it affecting your productivity at work, your relationships, or are you having any physical symptoms such as headaches, tension in your neck and shoulders, stomach aches, or trouble concentrating and sleeping? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional.
Handling the uncertainty of post-pandemic life is not something you have to figure out on your own. Chriselda Santos, licensed psychotherapist and certified life coach, is passionate about helping her clients tackle their issues so they can recover and thrive. She will equip you with the tools you need to better manage your anxiety and adapt to change, such as the changing conditions we are currently dealing with as vaccination numbers rise. For more information, or to book an appointment, visit Chriselda’s website.