Well, it’s finally happening. People are getting vaccinated against COVID and the United States is lifting the restrictions that turned our normal upside down. This is great news. However, even positive events oftentimes evoke inner emotional struggles, and this time is certainly no different. Especially considering how different things are from this same time last year. So, what are you experiencing as restaurants fully open their doors and once again move their tables closer together? Or as airlines bustle with passengers antsy to get to their destinations? Or as music festivals ramp up their ticket sales?
How We Got Here…
According to The American Journal of Managed Care, the first cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. were reported in January 2020, just a little over a year ago. Within two months of these initial announcements, a state of emergency was declared for the entire country. The virus was new, little was known about it, and its infection and death rates were believed by the scientific community to dwarf those of the common flu, which itself is highly contagious and dangerous. COVID was referred to by many experts as a “once-in-a-century virus.”
So, basically, society shut down. Bars. Gyms. Schools. Theaters. Hair salons. Government offices. Amusement parks. Coffee shops. Pretty much everything that was considered “non-essential” locked its doors indefinitely. Elected officials passed “social distancing” restrictions that have persisted in some form until now and which have significantly reshaped the way we’ll conduct business and interact socially from this point forward.
Will people shake hands with strangers and hug casual acquaintances as freely as before? Not likely. How about homeschooling? Although there are calls from parents and politicians to get kids back into classrooms, there’s a strong push from the other side of the fence to keep youngsters quarantined until it’s safer to return to crowded hallways and cafeterias. In all likelihood, plenty of parents will opt to teach their children the three Rs while perched in their living rooms for some time to come. Then there’s the issue of jobs. Why go back to a stuffy cubicle or stressful showroom when you have quite a comfy makeshift office where the spare bedroom used to be?
Compound all this with the fact that cities throughout the country teemed with protests and riots, our capital was taken siege of, and a new president and vice president were sworn into office, and how on earth can anyone be expected to not feel at least slightly trepidatious, if not downright scared?
Yes, getting back to normal after a months-long pandemic is a good thing. But the reality is that the way things used to be are in the past and we’re taking our first steps into what will prove to be a new normal. This means we’ll be confronted with change, and for some people change fractures their sense of security – if not shatters it altogether.
Whether You’re Frightened or Excited (or Both) is Okay
Although we’ve gained a lot of knowledge about the coronavirus compared to January 2020, there’s still much left to speculation. We don’t know how long the vaccines will last, or when people who were infected will be vulnerable again, or whether we’ll ever reach herd immunity and put this virus firmly behind us. With a partisan media, fixed opinions on both sides of the voting aisle, and deliberate misinformation on social media, the best we can do is choose responsibly and get on with our lives to the best of our ability.
Can this be scary? You bet it can. We’ve gone over a year seeing the vast majority of people we encounter wearing masks that cover half their faces. Not only have we been physically alienated, but we’ve been estranged from experiencing humans more completely than we’ve been accustomed to since birth. For some people, the prospect of full-contact sports and gossiping in the breakroom at work is thrilling. For others, though, some measure of confidence and comfortableness has been lost.
If you happen to be one of the many people who feel a sense of anxiety about heading back to the office or eating a cheeseburger three feet from the next full table, it’s okay. We’re all different, we’re going to react to things differently, and there’s no one right way to feel about this hyper-unusual time in our lives.
Suggestions for Coping with COVID Re-Entry Anxiety
If you recognize you’re stressed and fearful at the mere thought of breathing the same air as your coworkers, try these three proven coping strategies offered by the Anxiety & Depression Association of America:
1) Count To 10
Take a moment to count slowly to ten. If necessary, continue to twenty. Do so silently and allow the tension to dissolve.
2) Maintain a Positive Attitude
Try to be mindful of the nature of the thoughts racing through your head. When you notice the negative ones, challenge their accuracy and then replace them with positive ways of thinking.
3) Step Back and Relax
Separating yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally from the reality of re-entering society can help calm your nerves. Try yoga, meditation, or listening to soothing music.
Hopefully, the suggestions listed above ease you through this, but if you try them and find you’re still struggling to cope, definitely reach out for help. Talk to someone you trust, and if necessary, contact a therapist. Professional treatment is just an email or phone call away. Plus, most mental health practitioners offer online sessions nowadays, which makes it that much easier to get the help you need. Ironically, we can thank COVID for that.