Post-Pandemic Anxiety Is a Real Issue

Post-Pandemic Anxiety Is a Real Issue

Right now, gathering with friends might feel exciting—and kind of terrifying. How to Get More Comfortable During Re-Openings.

Throughout the pandemic, most of us wanted nothing more than for our normal routines to be restored: to be able to do our favorite yoga class in person, meet up with a friend at a restaurant for dinner, go into the office and chat with coworkers next to the coffee maker. But 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 comes along with that, there’s also a good chance you’ll be a little freaked out by all that extra exposure.

The truth: 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 are a danger. We’ve gone back to this ‘Whom are we supposed to trust?’ [game]—and our brain has been doing this for over a year.

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 might take some time to retrain your brain not to worry about socializing with other unmasked individuals.

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 fully figure it out, even as all countries continues 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 will be differentiated—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.

You may want to dismiss the trauma and grief you’ve experienced over the last year—don’t do that.

Think back to where we were at this time a year ago: there were no approved vaccines, and the death toll from COVID-19 in the world was climbing at a horrifying rate. It was extremely risky to enter public spaces that didn’t require masks, and health experts were advising everyone to avoid making contact with anyone outside of their household. Now, most adults in the world have been offered a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, deaths from severe COVID are way down, and many people are able to see those outside of their immediate family without worry.

It’s good news, of course, but it can be difficult to reconcile the current reality with what we grew accustomed to. The residual emotions of the pandemic aren’t any less serious than the anxiety associated with a diagnosable mental health condition. Among the emotions one might feel while reflecting on the tragedies of the last year is survivor’s guilt, not only in terms of someone lost their life, [but] someone lot their job, someone lost their house and I didn’t. How can I be okay when so many people lost so many things? We feel guilty for being okay.

How to cope with the stress and anxiety you might be feeling right now?

Needless to say, 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. After you’ve acknowledged what you’re thinking and feeling, it might be helpful to make solid plans to counter the uncertainty of the present moment. If you’re uncomfortable heading into a very large crowd, ask your friend how many people might be at the gathering, so you know whether you’ll be comfortable attending.

If you’re struggling with a lack of closure for everything that’s been lost over the past year, take some time to consider what you the pandemic taught you and what lessons you’ll be taking away from it. 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 healthier lifestyle. There are also ways to combat survivor’s guilt, especially now that we can more safely congregate with others. If you feel guilty about coming through the pandemic relatively unscathed, you can volunteer for charities that help the homeless, or if you’re experiencing survivor’s guilt because you’re alive, you can visit the gravesites of those in your community who lost their life to the virus.

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.

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