Updated: Nov 16
Lost jobs, strained relationships, and almost four million lives lost in a short span of two years, the world is a far cry from normal. According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a massive toll on the mental health of the masses. Research estimates that 10% of the population will develop mental health ails such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (1).
As COVID-19 vaccinations roll out across the world, many countries are lifting various restrictions and preparing to enter a life post-COVID. The thought of seeing loved ones, and traveling can feel exciting. Yet, many are still suffering the impact of the pandemic and aren’t ready to “return to normal.”
So if you’re feeling anxious about stepping outside the post-pandemic world, know that those feelings are totally normal and you’re not alone.
Common Forms of Post-Pandemic Anxiety
Feeling anxious about public spaces
The need to return to your everyday public commute and your office may churn feelings of worry.
For the last two years, avoiding large and crowded spaces has been considered necessary. And most of us have gotten used to it. Hence, the loosening of restrictions is likely to heighten fears. More so with uncertainty about new variants.
Feeling anxious about social settings
Social anxiety disorder (2) involves persistent overwhelming anxiety about social situations. These can include work presentations and even your after-work happy hours.
COVID-19 isn’t likely to have directly caused social anxiety disorder. However, re-entering society after foregoing social gatherings for months along with the fear of contracting the virus is undeniably stressful. And research suggests that increased cortisol, the stress hormone, may heighten anxiety towards social situations (3).
Tips to Cope With Post-Pandemic Anxiety
The possibility of returning to the busy workplace and crowded shopping malls can feel overwhelming. As hopping back into society can put us on-edge, we must find ways to manage the anxious feelings that may arise.
1. Take your time to adjust
First and foremost, take things slowly by gradually increasing your frequency of going out. For example, instead of running five errands at once, do three instead.
You can also take your time to expand your social interactions. If you know that in a month you’ll be meeting with larger groups of people, meet with one person now and slowly grow your circle.
Follow all safety guidelines like distancing and wearing masks to help lessen anxiety as you ease into your new routine. And know that it’s okay to take a step back before you go forward.
2. Set and communicate boundaries
Your loved ones may be excited to jump into post-pandemic life. But if you’re not ready, we recommend being upfront about your feelings.
Friends and family may have different comfort levels with different activities than you may have. Hence, it’s important to clarify how much time and space you still need. For example, you could say, “I would love to see everyone too. But I’d prefer to wait until all of us are fully vaccinated.”
By communicating your reasons and concerns, people are likely to understand and come to an agreement on safety.
3. Practice presence
It’s common to feel anxious when we’re focusing on the stressors of returning to work and social events. But instead of ruminating about the future or reading the latest news on COVID-19, try grounding yourself back to the present moment.
Practice staying present by spending quality time with your family, going for a walk, or meditating in silence. Deep breathing exercises like the 4-7-8 technique can also help soothe your frayed nerves.
4. Seek professional help
If you find nothing is working and you’re still anxious, it may be time to get professional help from a licensed counselor or psychologist.
Many practitioners have geared up with coping mechanisms and strategies to help those working through the aftermath and effects of the pandemic. Having a place to talk about it and work through any issues or struggles is a great way to get back on track.
As we’re all adjusting to our post-pandemic society, remember that everyone’s timeline will be a little different. With varying mental states and experiences over the past tumultuous year, we all play a role in helping and respecting each other’s pace.
We’re all going to come out of this crisis differently. And if anxiety becomes too much to cope with, don’t hesitate to seek help!
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Article about Social Anxiety Disorder