The number of vaccinated people continues to grow, the weather changes, and COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to lift. We’re confronted with the fact that our bounce-back to “regular” life might not be immediate. Instead of the pure elation many of us expected to feel, what we feel may be complicated, anxious, and messy. Dr. Lucy McBride described this mix of feelings in her Washington Post Op-Ed: “I’ve been yearning for an end to the pandemic. Now that it’s here, I’m a little afraid.”
Dr. McBride’s article normalizes that it’s okay not to feel 100% restored to normal, even when the worst of the crisis is over. Our minds hold onto memories of it that can re-play or inform our behavior long after the event is over. This is an expected result of extreme stress or trauma and can lead to hyper-vigilance, which is a state in which you stay on edge in an alert state, as if scanning the environment for threats.
For people who struggle with anxiety, the post-pandemic “What if’s” may cause agitation. Clients who come to work with me for anxiety during the pandemic are preoccupied with things like, “When will my employer require us to come back?” “Will telework be allowed to a degree that it hasn’t been before?” “What will it be like to commute again?” What used to be a normal and predictable daily activity — going to work — is now unknown and that can be difficult to manage on a daily basis.
Feelings of Loss
At the same time, it’s also normal to be wistful or even experience a sense of loss over “losing” some aspects of pandemic life. Clients with social anxiety may miss the lowered expectations regarding participation in social gatherings. They may feel a sense of fear over returning to work or school. And still others of us may miss some of the pandemic “perks” — spending more time with family, having flexible work hours, and spending time with pets.
It can be easy to get impatient with yourself or to feel like you’re being “ridiculous.” But rather than summoning your inner-critic, try compassion instead. It takes time to let go of fears and worries. Keep your expectations reasonable regarding your return to normal. Recognize that it may be more of a process, than a lightbulb moment. We can do this — the after-pandemic — and return to normal. It will just take time.