The world is slowly returning to normal with more and more states opening up. Colleges across the country are opening their doors for students to return in the fall. People are once again commuting to work rather than walking to their living room. Face-to-face interactions will resume, which may create some anxious feelings amongst many individuals. For the past year and a half, we have adjusted to a virtual world, came to terms with isolation, and learned how to get by. Now, we will adjust once again to life after COVID.
As with most changes, life after COVID will likely cause many some distress. Anxiety surrounding the impending adjustment is not out of the norm, and it’s okay to have some hesitancy surrounding the return to in-person life. But why are so many people facing anxiety? There is a couple of reasons: (1) conditioned fear response, (2) change in routine.
For a year and a half, we’ve had a constant stream of information about COVID-19 and the dangers surrounding the virus. We’ve been told to stay home, avoid crowded settings, and be as cautious as possible. All of this constant information, in addition to the rising stats, has created a fear-conditioned response. Now, as more are vaccinated, and the risk lessens, we can safely resume previous activities, but that conditioned fear is still there. Conditioning doesn’t go away overnight, so this will take some time. As you go out more and more, this fear will start to dissipate.
Change in routine is always challenging regardless of who you are. We were all struck with major changes back in March 2020 and are now faced with changes again as life returns to normal. I remember the day my university declared that masks were optional for those who were vaccinated. Everyone in class that day was weary. It took about three weeks before we felt comfortable enough to take off the masks, and even then, it felt weird.
Many will return back to work in person, so they will face multiple changes. Some may welcome to change back to in-person functioning, while others may dread the thought of having to leave their house and face a morning commute again. Regardless of your perspective, change is looming.
Tips for Adjusting to Life after COVID
Life after COVID may feel uncomfortable, and there may be new challenges that you must overcome. Publications of research are flooding journals on the psychological impacts of COVID-19, and we predict the same trend will occur with post-COVID psychological effects as well. Regardless of the impending literature on what to do, we’ve compiled a list of ideas to help make the transition back to life seamless based on prior strategies psychologists use with other adjustment issues.
1. Control the stress
The best thing you can do for yourself is limiting stress. There is a myriad of ways that one can reduce stress; our favorite, of course, is using a weighted blanket. As we’ve discussed in prior articles, weighted blankets suppress the body’s physiological response to stress (e.g., heart rate and muscle tension), making managing the worries easier.
2. Turn the TV off
It’s important to stay updated on current events, but incessant news reports about COVID-19 are draining. Quite honestly, incessant news about anything is draining and comes at the expense of our mental health. Think back to when COVID-19 was burgeoning. Do you remember checking your phone for news often? Think about that experience and how challenging it may have been. We must learn from our mistakes and strive for better habits (:
3. Be patient with yourself
You may be thinking, “This was my life for X years; why is it so difficult for me to go back to life in person?” Sure, that was your normal for many years, but the COVID era enforced a new normal for an extended period of time, so flipping back to the prior norm will take some getting used to, and that’s okay! Be patient and forgiving with yourself as you transition through all the emotions associated with change (i.e., stress, discomfort, or fear). Consider practicing a Loving and Kindness mindfulness meditation to help harness patience.
Many of us have become all too comfortable with faceless or virtual communication as our main source of conversation. We’ve adapted our body language to match these restricted forms of social interaction. As we come face to face with real people to have in-person conversations, know that it may be a bit awkward at first. Even more so if you’re only in-person interactions have been masked, literally. Also, annoyances you had within people in your social group will still be there post-pandemic, so don’t expect your interactions to be glorious experiences with everyone you know.
5. Engage in rewarding behaviors
With all the anxiety that comes with change, it is important to counteract that with enjoyable activities that elicit a sense of reward. For example, you may consider completing a puzzle or something similar to set and accomplish a goal.
As the threat of COVID subsides, we collectively need to prevent and mitigate the mental health effects from the pandemic. Adjusting back to a sense of normalcy couldn’t come soon enough, but now we are faced with new challenges surrounding life after COVID. We recommend being patient and forgiving towards yourself as you and everyone you know navigates through this adjustment period. Be mindful of your emotional state and mental health; take care of yourself. Above all, try to enjoy some of the activities that were stripped away from lockdowns.