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Managing Anxiety About Life Going Back to “Normal” After the Covid Pandemic

Updated: Mar 5

Person standing on a rock with a sunset in the background
Image/Aziz Acharki/Unsplash

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services

With the warm weather here and long weekends upon us, summer is a great time to get out and about while we trade our winter boots for flip-flops. However, this summer is likely going to feel very different compared to even last summer when we were still very much in covid lockdown.

It is hard to believe, but this is the first summer in years where we can actually start gathering with family and friends, travel, and even choose not to wear a mask if we are comfortable doing so (depending on the guidelines in your particular region).

However, knowing that we can do this - and actually doing it – can be two different things. Some of us may not yet feel ready to socialize or travel. Or, we may only want to spend time with loved ones outside where we know there is a constant source of fresh air as this may help us feel we are reducing our risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus.

So, what can we do to help ourselves cope with society opening up and starting to socialize again while we are still feeling scared about contracting the virus? Keep reading on for some ideas that may be helpful for you.

Take it slow

If it helps you ease into it, take things slow. Maybe start with a short walk outside with one friend. Brainstorm other outdoor ideas (e.g. bike rides, jogging, rollerblading, etc.). Think about if you feel ready to have a coffee or tea with a friend on a café patio. Consider doing dinner on a restaurant patio or on your deck or balcony.

Gradually build up to seeing two friends or more and working towards a small indoor gathering once you feel open to it. And know that you can increase your social intensity or scale back whenever you need to – listen to yourself and what you need. This is not a race and it isn’t necessarily a straight line either. Your comfort level may ebb and flow depending on the coronavirus stats and definitely based on the recommended health precautions where you live.

As a side note, if you are returning to work in the office and also travelling by train, subway, or bus, you can wear a mask during transit and in the office building if that helps you feel safer. Try to take a break to go outside for a few minutes if you can to take your mask off every so often so you can get some fresh air when you need to. And don’t let potential pressure from coworkers get to you – they can choose what they want to do and you can do the same.

Set goals for yourself

Defining what reintegration back into society looks like can also mean setting clear goals for yourself that become more involved as your comfort level rises.

For example, one goal might be to ask one friend to go for a walk next weekend for an hour - make note if you asked your friend and if the walk took place. If you didn’t ask your friend, what prevented you from doing it? What needs to happen to allow you to overcome this barrier next time?

Write down if the walk happened and how you felt afterwards. Do you still feel anxious? Do you feel more socially connected and energized? Identifying how you feel may help you figure out if you’re ready to move on to the next goal or stay where you are right now.

Another goal might be creating a list of go-to phrases you can use if you want to say “no” to a social request in a way that shows you appreciate the invite but are currently not ready to engage to that extent.

Yet another goal might be to describe progressive social situations – almost like a hierarchy – that reflects your evolving comfort in spending time with others outside of your household.

Create goals that work well for you and check in on your progress over time.

Practice = more confidence

It’s possible that the more you practice getting out there, the easier it will become. Reintegration might not feel as scary as it once did when you have more social experiences under your belt. And, if you take the precautions you feel you need while you are with others (e.g. wearing your mask, sanitizing, keeping your distance, etc.), this can help you feel more at ease when you are in a new social situation.

Experiencing success within new adventures can help us feel more confident that the next time around will go well, too. The more positive experiences you have to look back on, the more hope you might have that things are truly improving and that you will be safe.

Monitor your self--talk

Take a look inward at how you are talking to yourself in these anxiety-provoking social situations.

Are you telling yourself that you’ll never be able to take your mask off again in a social context? Or that you can’t spend time with others in any capacity because that means you’ll get covid? Or perhaps that things will never improve?

Alternatively, are you trying to remind yourself that you have your covid vaccines, you practice good hand hygiene, you wear a mask, and you sanitize as often as you feel you need to try to protect yourself? How could changing your thought process from a fear-based mindset to one that factors in what you are already doing to take care of yourself help you feel better about seeing others in person?

Reflect on how what you are telling yourself could impact your mood, willingness, and desire for reintegration and whether a more flexible approach may partly reduce the intensity of the worries that could be preventing you from connecting with others.

Connect with people who support you

It can be hard when you feel like you might be the only person in your family or friend group who feels uncomfortable about jumping right back into an active social life following the last few years of the covid pandemic.

However, it’s important to surround yourself with people who will support you in what feels right to you and that don’t push you to do something that is too far out of your comfort zone. You deserve people in your life who are there for you during tough times and validate your experience while also encouraging you to reach the goals that you have set for yourself.

Get started in a way that feels good to you

Sometimes, we can feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start. Feeling indecisive can lead us to not make a decision as that may feel easier than weighing the options and making a tough choice. Hopefully, you find some comfort in knowing that there is no right or wrong way to begin your gradual reintegration into society.

Starting somewhere small that seems reasonable to you may be just enough to help you feel like you are making progress in your adjustment and coping. Remember -- you’re doing better than you think!

Final Thoughts

These past few years have been so hard on everyone and have impacted people in different ways. Some people can’t wait to get right back to “normal”, while others are taking a slower, more cautious approach.

There is nothing wrong with either strategy. It’s important to know that, if you’re feeling anxious, there isn’t something wrong with you and you need not be embarrassed. You are choosing an alternate pace and that’s ok because everyone is different. Do what feels right for you and trust that you will adjust in your own time.

Wishing you well on your mental health journey.

Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist

If you would like to read more articles, click on the ‘Blog’ option in the menu bar at the top of the Meaningful Independence website.

If you are an adult in Ontario or Alberta seeking virtual or online therapy and would like to request a free 15 minute phone consultation, please Book An Appointment or reach out directly under the Contact page.

#anxiety #anxious #covid #covid19 #covidanxiety #healthanxiety #healthanxietyawareness #healthanxietytips #socialization #reintegration #society #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthmatters

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