As of the publication of this blog, about 40% of the American population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The CDC recently updated its guidelines for fully vaccinated people, indicating they will no longer need to wear masks in most settings. And new data suggests the pandemic may finally be in retreat in the United States.
There appears to be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Especially for the vaccinated, a return to pre-pandemic life is within reach. Many of us are ready to dive head-first into social gatherings and other once-off-limits activities.
On the contrary, many others may be feeling more anxious than excited about the coming changes, and that’s understandable.
Here are 3 tips for coping with “re-entering” anxiety:
1. Take it one day at a time
The transition to pre-pandemic behavior may be less of a shock for those whose jobs (or personalities) have kept them in close proximity to other people throughout the pandemic. But for those who have mostly stayed home and avoided gatherings, jumping into maskless gatherings will feel strange and unnatural.
Reclaiming our sense of safety will take time. For the past year or so we’ve operated with the understanding that mask-wearing and social distancing will save lives. Just as habit-forming in response to the threat of the virus was an adjustment, unlearning these safety habits will be a process as well.
Remember that you can take it one day at a time. Think of the activities that you could do after vaccination as options instead of obligations. Set boundaries if you’re being expected or pressured to resume activities you’re not ready for yet. Collaboratively make plans with others: ask, how do we want to do this? Asking questions like this will normalize the fact that some people are going to want to take it slower or have more boundaries than others.
You can start small and work your way up to activities that are more anxiety-provoking for you. Comparing yourself to others who seem more comfortable may cause you more anxiety (and possibly resentment). Do what you need to do and take it at your own pace.
2. Remember that you’re moving forward, not going backward
For some, part of their anxiety may come from the dread of returning to their pre-pandemic lifestyle, which might have been overbooked, overwhelming, and unsustainable.
Re-entering society does not have to mean going back to that lifestyle. You’ve learned things in the past year about yourself that you’ll take with you into this next phase of your life. You’ve re-evaluated your values, and you’ll use those values as a guide for setting more sustainable boundaries.
Maybe you’ll be more careful not to overbook your social calendar. If possible, you’ll work from home more often, take more vacations, and spend more time with family. Perhaps you’ll prioritize time for rest and self-care, and allow yourself to pursue your hobbies and interests.
As a society, we’ve normalized behaviors that prevent disease. Mask-wearing may be the norm during flu season and in densely populated places. We’ll be better about hand-washing. Some may continue to opt for elbow bumps instead of handshakes. And we’ll be more likely to stay home when we’re sick.
We’ve changed. The world has changed. What do you want your next chapter to look like?
3. Don’t use anxiety as a guide
Our anxiety often leads us astray: it leads us to overestimate risks and perceive danger out of proportion to reality. Don’t wait until you don’t feel anxious to dip your toe into re-entering society. Living in the world comes with some risk; it will never be zero risk. It’s okay to take it at your own pace, but keep in mind that too much avoidance will only perpetuate your anxiety.
Instead of focusing on what you want to avoid, focus on the little things you’ve missed that you’re looking forward to experiencing again. Live music. The smell of your favorite restaurant. The sense of community you feel when socializing with a group.
It’s been a hard year. A lot of people are struggling with anxiety, depression, burnout, and grief. Keep focusing on taking care of yourself. Prioritize nutrition and exercise. And get help if you need it.
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