Now that all US adults and some teens are eligible for the vaccine, the end of the Covid-19 pandemic feels closer and more realistic by the day. After spending over a year cooped up in our homes, a sense of ‘normalcy’ is finally on the horizon. And while we all spent 2020 expecting the arrival of vaccines and the return of a carefree routine, many people are feeling anxious rather than excited about a post-Covid-19 world.
If this feeling resonates with you, don’t worry. You are not alone. An American Psychological survey of 3,000 US adults found that 46 percent don’t feel comfortable going back to living like they used to before the pandemic. Moreover, 49 percent of participants reported feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions. Read on to find out why feelings of ‘reentry anxiety’ are so common, and learn a few expert tips to help you cope with those feelings.
The reason why one feels anxious about the world reopening varies from person to person. After all, we all had our own personal experiences of the pandemic. Yet, there are a few universal reasons according to mental health professionals.
Fear of the unknown. When Covid-19 first broke out, most people had to make big changes and adjustments in their everyday life. While that was difficult, people adapted to pandemic life and now need to adapt yet again. That is a lot of change for anyone to handle. It’s completely normal to feel anxious when your daily schedule is disrupted, or when you're not sure how life is going to look in the near future.
Health anxiety. Over the course of the past year, people were encouraged to check themselves for Covid-19 symptoms. This habit can lead some people to develop varying forms of health anxiety, according to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University, in New York City.
Abandoning the comforts of home. In addition to the fear of the unknown, some people are also afraid of losing some of the things they appreciated about the past year. Whether it’s a new hobby, more time spent with loved ones, or the perks of working from home - the pandemic had a silver lining for many people.
Introverts and those who suffer from social anxiety are especially susceptible to feel stressed about the world reopening. Getting accustomed to frequent social interactions again can take some time.
In order to overcome the fear of uncertainty, it’s important to remind yourself of the things you can control about a particularly stressful situation. That means being very mindful and intentional about the activities in which you participate in the post-pandemic world.
If you’re planning to meet with friends for the first time in a while, start by writing or thinking of a list of relevant factors you can control, such as holding the gathering outside, the people you’re going to meet, and the fun activities you will be doing. Planning things in a structured way can give you something exciting to look forward to, and it gives you time to prepare mentally.
Don’t judge yourself for the feelings you are experiencing - this is the advice of a licensed clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior. There is a wide range of emotions you could feel, and you can have several types of feelings at the same time.
You might be excited to reenter the world with a new perspective on life while still mourning a Covid-19-related loss. It can be confusing to realize that you have those seemingly contradictory emotions, but it can be helpful to know that it’s totally normal. You can be excited and scared at the same time, or cycle between happiness and stress. The important thing is that you allow yourself to feel everything without judgment.
The best way to accustom yourself to a new kind of routine is to take things slowly. Ease into new activities by seeing one friend at a time or planning short local trips. Be comfortable saying no and proceed at your own pace. Otherwise, you might find yourself exhausted and burned out.
Just remember that while baby steps are healthy, complete avoidance is not. Avoiding social situations altogether can prolong the experience of anxiety and fear.
If you’re worried about leaving behind the good parts of pandemic life, experts suggest taking notes of what made you feel happy. Make an inventory of the things that worked for you during the pandemic. Once you’re aware of the things that are too important to you to give up, you can figure out how to restructure your life to include those positive aspects in it.
You may not be able to include those elements in every single day of your life, but consider doing so on a weekly or monthly basis. Not only will you get to keep having these positive experiences, but you will also maintain a sense of control over your life.
Create a bucket list of the experiences you’re excited to have and the things you’d like to do post-pandemic. Doing so can help shift your thinking from negative to positive. Focus not on the things you’re anxious about in the future, but on those that give you a sense of hope and optimism.
Your list doesn’t necessarily have to be extravagant or adventurous. Include any activity you enjoy but had to put off during the pandemic, whether it’s getting a haircut or going to the gym with a friend. The point is to push yourself to realize that there are new possibilities of joy waiting for you.
A good way to manage anxiety is simply to talk about it to friends and family. Once you share your concerns with others, you could be surprised to learn how many people in your life feel the same. If these thoughts are really interfering with your quality of life and you’ve tried managing your anxiety, it might be time to seek help from a mental health professional.
The essence of anxiety comes from change and not knowing what will happen. The important thing is to acknowledge it and take charge of your post-pandemic life, to make this transition as smooth and calm a possible.
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