It’s unclear just what the post-pandemic world will look like. But most likely, what many have hoped would be a return to normal will more likely be a transition to a new normal. As a result, many of us are experiencing anxiety and mixed feelings about “resuming” pre-pandemic life.
Here we’ll look at the many ways in which the pandemic has affected all of us, followed by a list of some ongoing problem areas many of us are likely to experience even as life becomes “closer to normal.” Finally, we’ll examine a few tips for coping with adjustment to post-pandemic life.
Negative Impacts of the Pandemic
Most of us had no warning or time to prepare for the pandemic, in particular the initial “lock down.” As a result, we went into survival mode and most of us did not have any time to process what was going on. Rather many of us felt frantic, confused and were running on adrenaline, leading to a state of chronic stress that spanned over a year.
Social media bombarded us with information about the impact of the Coronavirus, with a significant focus on lives lost. Between this and hearing about the deaths of family members, friends and acquaintances, many of us were forced to face our own mortality.
The pandemic caused a great deal of loss: people lost jobs, businesses, loved ones, and social connections. As a result, many of us are now dealing with tremendous feelings of grief and loss.
The pandemic led to a great deal of social isolation, robbing people of the social support so necessary to get through difficult times. At this point, many people are feeling disconnected, alone, and anxious about how they will begin to socialize again after being so “out of practice.”
The stress of the pandemic caused an exacerbation of preexisting stressors. Because of the inability to utilize social connections and outlets that they would typically use to help manage stress, it has been much harder for people to manage in these difficult times.
The pandemic made us all realize that life can be upended at any time, leading to rising levels of anxiety and an increased awareness of our lack of control over many aspects of life.
The pandemic created many “forced choices” such as “I have to work, but I also have to stay home with my kids.” Many of us have felt that we couldn’t possibly get it right and have felt doubtful about decisions made.
Parents, fearful and anxious about the pandemic, had fewer resources to provide their children with the emotional support they needed. As a result, many kids and teens have been experiencing feelings of anxiety and sadness, not to mention real overwhelm in the face of virtual schooling, which their parents may not have been able to help them with.
Many kids and teens missed out on certain developmental opportunities, such as forming social connections and mastering certain academic challenges. They have also been robbed of the chance to celebrate various milestones (e.g., graduations, beginning college). In addition, many lacked the structure and support necessary for learning while engaged in virtual school.
Positive Impacts of the Pandemic
Many of us have benefited from the slower pace of life, experiencing the “simple pleasures” such as spending more time with family at home. This has enabled people to stop and reflect on their priorities and begin to make some changes in terms of where to put their focus and energy.
Many people have described feeling relieved about being able to avoid “toxic” people and situations.
Many have felt less stress while working from home, no longer having to spend time commuting to and from work and having more flexibility during the day.
The Implications of having lived through the last year:
Many have talked about feelings of guilt about having survived the pandemic, having witnessed friends, family co-workers and front line workers die from Covid. This experience is often referred to as “survivor’s guilt,” the feeling of guilt about having survived while other people did not.
Many of us have been experiencing profound feelings of sadness as we reflect upon the impact on people who have lost loved ones, lost jobs, etc.
Many of us are struggling to make sense of everything that has happened this past year, hoping to find some meaning in this devastating time.
Symptoms of anxiety and depression have increased among children, adolescents and adults alike.
Many of us, having been quite isolated throughout the year, are experiencing symptoms of social anxiety, feeling out of practice in social situations.
Many of us are uncertain about how we will manage conversations about comfort with masks, social distancing, and vaccination status now that restrictions are being removed.
Tips For Managing Anxiety About Returning to “Normal” Life
Having experienced such dramatic change over the past year, the thought of going through any more changes, even those that are more positive (e.g., returning to work and school, being able to socialize) can be quite daunting. Make changes slowly to reduce feeling overwhelmed.
Allow yourself time to grieve and create rituals to acknowledge all of the loss we have experienced this past year.
Make plans to “re-do” missed milestones such as birthday celebrations, graduations.
Many of us are anxious about returning to work after a year of working from home. Be patient with yourself, see if it is possible to ease back into going into the office, and try to plan pleasurable activities at the end of day. Be sure to take short breaks throughout the day during which you can practice some breathing for relaxation, listen to a short meditation, or take an invigorating walk around the block.
Many people feel uncertain about how to manage social interactions (e.g., should we all wear masks, and what to do if you are wearing a mask and others you are with are not, whether or not to be physically connected to others (e.g., shaking hands and hugging others). Try to get some clarity about what feels most comfortable for you, and don’t be afraid to express your preferences to others with whom you interact. Take socializing slowly, perhaps starting with those closest to you with whom you feel you can talk to about your concerns and your comfort level.
Some of us are feeling guilty about not being totally relieved and happy about our return to “normal.” Understand that mixed feelings make sense; go easy on yourself and allow yourself time to re-adjust to old routines.
Many people feel frightened about restrictions being lifted; after a year of protecting ourselves and our loved ones via social distancing, etc., it is scary to think about being among crowds of people without getting sick.
Additional Tips for Coping Post-COVID:
Be sure to get enough sleep
Work on breathing
Share your feelings with trusted others.
If you are feeling anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed, reach out to your local mental health center.
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Dr. Elissa R. Gross, Psy.D., is a Clinical Psychologist at Lukin Center Psychotherapy and the mother of two teenage sons who specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents and adults experiencing depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-injury, posttraumatic stress disorders, couples' therapy, family therapy, and issues related to adoption and blended families. She received her Bachelor's degree from Duke University, where she was an integral member of several research teams at the Duke University Medical Center studying the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and Eating Disorders. Dr. Gross received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at The Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, part of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. Throughout graduate school, Dr. Gross received extensive training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, family systems therapy, group therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Dr. Gross completed her clinical internship at the NYU Medical Center, and was then hired on as a staff member, treating children, adolescents and adults via individual and group psychotherapy, as well as supervising doctoral interns.
Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ridgewood, Hoboken, Montclair, Clifton, Jersey City and Englewood. He has extensive clinical and research experience spanning individuals of all ages, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He specializes in men’s issues, couple’s counseling, and relationship problems. His therapeutic approach focuses on providing support and practical feedback to help patients effectively address personal challenges. He integrates complementary modalities and techniques to offer a personalized approach tailored to each patient. He has been trained in cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior, schema-focused, and emotionally focused therapy, and has also been involved with research projects throughout his career, including two National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies. He is a member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, the International OCD Foundation, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACSB) and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.