Feeling ambivalent about re-emerging? You’re not alone.
In the mid-Atlantic, the periodical cicadas have surfaced from their 17-year underground hibernation. They’re vibrating their bodies in a cacophonous drone to signal their readiness for mating. Their flight patterns seem a bit hapless and uncoordinated, and as they latch onto anything upright – trees, blades of grass, shrubs and humans. They seem to be hanging on for dear life — does this sound like some pandemic-era behavior?
Like the cicadas, we are also in the midst of an emergence. We’re both entering a world that in ways feels both familiar and alien. After a year of lock-down, masking, lack of human contact and the absence of social outlets, many of us are struggling to adjust to reduced restrictions and freedom of movement we haven’t experienced since March 2020.
Push Past the Pandemic: Cautious Steps Forward
We’re following a year in which many of us have come to regard human interactions as risky, and potentially lethal. Now, we’re finding it difficult to let our guard down around others, even if we’re vaccinated. Data from the American Psychological Association (APA) collected in March 2021 found that nearly 50% of respondents felt anxious about being around people again, irrespective of vaccination status.
Lynn Bufka, a senior director of practice transformation and quality at APA, states that “our perception of what’s considered normal” has changed during the pandemic. It’s “understandable that there will be “some period of time when how we respond to the world around us is going to be different, where we’re going to feel … awkward.
In an interview with the APA’s online blog Conversation, Ellen Hendrickson, a clinical psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, says “There is so much uncertainty right now, from the vaccine roll-out to society reopening to the new normal workplace to the virus and the variants themselves.”
“So many people are emerging from the pandemic feeling exhausted, burned out, anxious, or depressed,” adds Hendrickson. “Collectively, our resources are low, which makes it harder to navigate the layers of uncertainty.”
In addition, the trauma and grief of the pandemic is still very alive within us, especially if we lost someone we loved. The inability to be physically with a loved one going through treatment, and at the time of death, has been hard to reconcile emotionally. Not having the ability to mark the death with familiar rituals – such as wakes, memorial services, funerals and burials – has only made our grief more complex. And for many of the health care providers who tended to the sick and dying, providing comfort at the bedside, the impact of that experience is just beginning to land now that caseloads have eased.
Steps for Adjusting
Finding yourself feeling unsettled or tentative about the easing of restrictions and the resumption of social interactions? Below are some steps you can take to help you acclimate to this new phase of pandemic life.
Take it slow. Don’t force yourself to go too far beyond your comfort level, especially if you feel pressured by others. Honor your limits while trying to stretch where you can. Recognize that each one of us will approach the loosening of restrictions at different pace.
Focus on what you can control. Make a plan for yourself. How willl you respond to invitations from friends, family and co-workers to gather for meals, events and work meetings? Explore options for compromise where possible. For example, would you be open to meeting your friend for dinner if the restaurant could seat you outside?
Set Your Own Boundaries
Vary your routines. If you want to test yourself by going to the grocery store, pick a time or location that’s not so busy. Consider meeting in bigger groups at outdoor locations, rather than starting indoors.
Investigate work options. Many workplaces are beginning to bring employees back to work, or making plans to do so. If the thought of going into an office is stressful, talk to your boss or human resources about flexible arrangements. Can you fulfill your job responsibilities at home? If you decide or are required to go back to an office, do what helps you feel safe. If wearing a mask while interacting with others or opening windows to generate air flow is what works for you, make those moves!
The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an unprecedented and stressful period for upset, confusion and loss. Many of us are struggling to make sense of what’s happened to us, individually and collectively. If you’re finding it hard to cope with feelings surrounding the pandemic and the changes it has brought, consider talking to a counselor. For information on scheduling an appointment at the Viva Center, visit https://calendly.com/thevivacenter/intakes.
Regina Tosca, LICSW is a therapist at the Viva Center in Washington, DC. She works with people experiencing grief and loss, including from their work in animal welfare. Other blogs by Regina include “Multilayered Therapeutic Healing from Trauma and Oppression: Raven Jenerson” and “Healing the Wounds of Addiction and Race-Based Trauma: Teayra Turner“.