After more than a year of dealing with uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost everything seems to have reopened, people are returning to the office, kids are back in school, and life seems to be returning to some semblance of normalcy. Yet while we may have long wished for a return to the pre-pandemic “normal,” many of us are experiencing increased stress and anxiety that can be challenging to cope with at times. Keep reading to learn about how you can cope with a return to normal and start to reintegrate into daily life.
Keep a Level Head
It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of missing out when you hear about others who are starting to participate more in pre-pandemic activities, like going to gatherings or indoor dining. During the pandemic, you might have longed to go on vacation or out to a restaurant. But now that it’s possible, many people are struggling with FOGO, or the fear of going out. Remember, you don’t have to do everything all at once and immediately reintegrate into daily life just because it seems like “everyone else is doing it.” Take things at your own speed, do what makes you feel comfortable, realize that it’s okay to say no, and try to maintain a sense of balance.
Practice Stress Management and Self-Care
Managing stress is a necessary part of life, pandemic or not. But when stress levels increase because of anxiety or just plain old uncertainty about the return to normal, it’s even more important to take time to care for yourself. Make room in your schedule to just sit and be with your thoughts and feelings, connect with others (whether it’s still virtually or in person), start a meditation practice, spend time in nature, and plan time for activities you enjoy. Also, try not to get too caught up in the changing daily news—it’s good to be informed, but it’s okay to tune out at times to avoid overexposure, too.
Write Down Your Thoughts
Sometimes, fear can maintain its grip in our minds just because we haven’t developed awareness or actively expressed our thoughts to ourselves. Obsessive, fearful thoughts can swirl around in your head and cause anxiety if you’re not aware of what’s going on. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of, why am I avoiding [fill in your concern]?” Then write it down and brainstorm some of the ways you could start to tackle your fears. For example, if you’re afraid of going shopping, you might bring a friend, or you could plan to just go into a store for a few minutes without actually buying anything. It’s a matter of taking baby steps and easing into it, not doing everything all at once.
Maintain—or Adopt—Healthy Habits
In February 2021, the American Psychological Association (APA) published a report that 61% of American adults experienced unwanted weight changes (which includes both weight gain and weight loss). If you’ve been trying or wanting to maintain healthier eating habits, check out the free WellRx Grocery Guidance App, which offers tips and guidance to help you align with your wellness goals. It’s also a good idea to get outside for your daily workouts—a clinical review in the journal, Extreme Physiology & Medicine reports that exercising in nature can help with stress management and promote feelings of increased revitalization and wellness.
Try to Cultivate Trust
For many people, it might have been difficult to trust the news that was relayed throughout the course of the pandemic. However, the Los Angeles Times reports that to reintegrate into daily life, we have to try to cultivate a sense of trust: trust that the people we interact with are getting vaccinated or protecting themselves through other ways; trust that vaccines are safe and work as well as they are said to; and trust that government officials telling us it’s safe to return to certain daily activities are motivated by science, not politics. Remember that you can—and perhaps should—continue with the habits that make you feel safe (such as mask-wearing) for as long as you feel necessary—it’s about your level of comfort.
Seek Help if Necessary
In November 2020, the APA’s poll reported that psychologists were seeing more patients for anxiety disorders (74%) and depressive disorders (60%) when compared with pre-pandemic levels. Anxiety and depression might not subside on their own; however, for some people, the return to normal might paradoxically exacerbate their symptoms. If you feel like you’re having trouble coping beyond what you think is normal for you, reach out to a qualified mental health specialist to talk about your feelings and experiences.
Stacy Mosel, LMSW, is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, and substance abuse specialist. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a Master of Social Work degree in 2002. She has extensive training in child and family therapy and in the identification and treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Currently, she is focusing on writing in the fields of mental health and addictions, drawing on her prior experiences as an employee assistance program counselor, individual and family therapist, and assistant director of a child and family services agency