When the Covid-19 pandemic first started to rage in early 2020 and the world started to go into lockdowns and circuit breakers to curb the spread, incidences of mental health issues began to increase. As people were separated from their loved ones and usual support networks, reports of depression and other related concerns saw an uptake. Some were also worried about themselves or their loved ones catching the virus while others did lose loved ones and had to grapple with the loss.
Fast forward one year and with the advent of vaccinations, the world is gradually coming back to life. As restrictions begin to lift and some semblance of normalcy returns, some are now reporting stress related to coming out of lockdown.
Unsurprisingly, a key contributor to these stressors is fear. Many are still concerned about the new variants emerging and still do not feel safe. Added to that concern is that the vaccination process is still underway and not everyone has been vaccinated yet. There are also fears around seeing groups of people who are not wearing their masks.
Post pandemic anxiety is therefore a growing phenomenon.
Cynthia Ackrill, MD, a stress expert and editor of the American Institute of Stress’s Contentment Magazine, when interviewed by Health, likened the stress of coming face-to-face with another person post-COVID to that of navigating public places as a little kid. “When you’re a toddler and you’d run-up to a stranger in the mall, your parents [said]: ‘Woah, that’s a stranger,” Dr Ackrill says. Now, it’s more like “Woah, that’s another person—without a mask on.”
Over the past year, we’ve been taught that everyone outside of our bubble—stranger or not—is a potential danger. “Even the people we love are a danger. We’ve gone back to this ‘Who are we supposed to trust?’ [game]—and our brain has been doing this for over a year,” says Dr Ackrill.
Added to the fears of whether or not someone is virus safe, is also the idea of getting overwhelmed by the growing number of people on the street. Over the past year, we may have gotten used to walking around without anyone coming into our personal space. As more and more people come out, the amount of “space” on the streets might grow less.
How then do we cope with the world post pandemic?
- Accept and Acknowledge those feelings
Suppressed feelings are often the key reasons for the deterioration of emotional and mental health. It is important to take stock of those stressors as they arise and to exercise self care. Check in with yourself and notice the physical manifestations to those feelings. Remind yourself that those feelings are normal and that it is perfectly ok.
2. Give yourself time
It took your brain a while to process the idea of wearing a mask and social distancing. With that in mind, it will also take a while to process the converse.
Dr Ackrill notes that it took a lot of effort for your brain to adjust to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic and are now trying to convince your body that it doesn’t need to worry about that any more will take a period of time. “That’s a lot of training for the brain—we’ve really made a habit of considering other human beings a danger.”
So, if you are feeling apprehensive about emerging from your bubble, do things in incremental steps and if it is too much too soon – that is ok! Take your time!
3. Make time to grief
Now that the tide against the pandemic is turning, there might be a temptation to dismiss everything that we have gone through in the past year and just plunge right back into the thick of things. But that would probably not be the most healthy way to go about things.
If you’re struggling with a lack of closure for everything that’s been lost over the past year, take some time to consider what the pandemic taught you and what lessons you’ll be taking away from it. “Take some time to reflect,” Dr Ackrill says. “What do you want it to mean to you? What do you want to take out of this before you enter the world again?” The pandemic, for example, could have taught you that your self-care routine needed some serious tweaking, and it gave you space and time to make those adjustments in order to lead a healthier lifestyle. Assigning meaning to the suffering of the past year might make it easier to transition into the post-vaccine world.
If you have lost someone in the pandemic, it is also important to take time to mourn that loss. Consider bereavement counselling or talking to trusted friends.