With the consistent rise in vaccinated Americans, it finally seems that we may be on the verge of a return to normal—or a new version of it—in the relatively near future. After spending more than a year in different levels of lockdown, quarantine, restrictions, stress, and fear, this brings hope and excitement to most of our lives. However, it is important to prepare for some of the ways that this pandemic may remain with us psychologically for some time to come.
Overwhelmed by Pace
Before Covid-19, were you accustomed to a fast-paced lifestyle? A typical day might have consisted of waking up early, commuting to the office, running multiple errands on the way home, taking children to activities, and squeezing in a couple of loads of laundry before bed. Although there may have been some added complications from working at home, many people found that they could structure their days in a less rushed manner. They may have been required to reduce activities due to social distancing. The lack of commute may have given them more time to finish tasks at more convenient times. In many ways, working from home slowed down the rush of life.
As things return to a new version of normal, you may find yourself surprised by how overwhelming your old pace may feel. This will not be true for everyone, but it can be expected to affect many. As it becomes safer to include old activities into your life again, consider taking things slowly instead of diving back in the same way as before. You may also want to consider eliminating some activities and tasks that you may not want to resume. You have changed as a person in some ways due to this difficult time, and it is okay to select pieces of your old life that you don’t want to reinsert into your new one.
Anxiety in Large Groups
Avoiding crowds and large groups of people, as well as maintaining social distance, have been consistent messages since the beginning of the pandemic. Many of us are looking forward to big family gatherings again. However, just as we have become accustomed to a slower pace, we have also become used to very small groups. Some of us have only seen one or two people at a time since before the pandemic began. Some people may find that getting used to larger groups a big adjustment. So, approach it at a pace that is comfortable for you.
For example, when attending a family gathering or other event, be prepared for the potential for some anxiety or discomfort. Remind yourself, in moments of stress, that this does not mean you have grown to dislike your family members, but that this is something you haven’t done for a while. If things start to become overwhelming, give yourself a chance to catch your breath so the anxiety won’t increase. Step away for a walk or take a moment in the bathroom. It took time to get used to avoiding groups; it will take time to get used to being part of groups again.
One habit that most of us have practiced during the pandemic is wearing a mask. There have been some mixed messages about when we will be able to be free of masks. However, even after there is a clear message that we can let go of masks, many people may feel afraid to stop wearing them.
A possible reason for this hesitancy may be that wearing masks was one of the few ways to have some power and control during the pandemic. As businesses closed, friends and family became ill, jobs were lost, and money became tighter, wearing masks was one of the very few things we could do to protect ourselves and others from this chaotic experience. That feeling of security may be difficult to give up. Additionally, the use of masks has reduced the impact of the flu and other illnesses. It has given the average American the feeling that they are better able to protect themselves from things they once thought they merely had to accept as a reality.
It is, therefore, understandable that many may feel comfort in wearing masks. Although some friends or family members may not quite understand your desire to continue to wear a mask (if you choose to continue), it is your choice. It is ok for you to continue to do so, even if it is not as often or not in as many situations.
Fear of Future Pandemics
Even when Covid-19 is behind us, the possibility of a future pandemic will not be. This possibility has always been a reality, but it never felt real to us before. We may need to consider what it means to take some reasonable risks in our day-to-day lives. For example, there is a risk of a car crash when going for a drive. A reasonable level of risk management is to drive carefully and to wear a seatbelt. If you are unable to even get yourself into the car, this anxiety may rise to the level of a phobia.
It is expected that we may live with some higher levels of anxiety due to the trauma of Covid-19. Be patient with yourself. Take things slowly. This shift is new for all of us. Over time, returning to a new normal may help to reduce this anxiety into the more reasonable level of risk-taking we expect in our day-to-day lives. However, if you find that this anxiety is severe enough to prevent you from resuming more normal activities, tasks, responsibilities, or social events, consider seeking support through counseling.