AAI Mental Health and Pandemic

As vaccines continue to roll out and the pandemic seems closer to its end, FOGO – the fear of going out – in a post-pandemic world will be a common challenge. After over a year of masks, working at home, and curbed social interactions, it is to be expected that getting back out into society will be daunting for many.

 Reactions will vary from person to person.  Some will transition readily and with a healthy balance. They are ready for the easing of restrictions and will face the changes with equanimity, welcoming the old and holding on to the new that they wish to bring forward.  Others may fall into the extremes of fear or recklessness.

Recklessness

 As people begin to spend more and more time in close contact with each other, the desire to celebrate may be taken to an extreme.  Whether at a large, wild party or in smaller groups, there could be the tendency for some to engage in excessive behaviors like binge drinking or using drugs in groups. Related articles: Crisis on Campus | Brotopia

While these unhealthy behaviors existed before the pandemic and continued throughout, there is a reason for concern that we may see an upswing in binge drinking and drug use as people return to social groups and activities. Wanting to let loose, some will embrace dangerous and excessive behaviors.

Fear and Anxiety

Still others will become anxious as the world transitions back to pre-Covid-19 norms. There can be many reasons for this, but there are some common themes.

We Are Out of Practice

Social skills are just that: skills. We learn them, we practice them, and we adapt them over time.

Without our typical pre-pandemic daily interactions, we are simply out of practice with our social skills. This may leave us feeling awkward and uncomfortable. It may be most helpful to simply acknowledge the elephant in the room and be honest about feeling insecure in once-familiar social circumstances. Fortunately, we will practice social skills again as we return to a more normal work and social life, bringing us back up to snuff.

Holding on to the New, Bringing Back the Old

There may be new boundaries for ourselves and others. Our needs and preferences may have changed or evolved. Some things that used to be normal or routine may no longer give us the satisfaction they once did.

The restrictions during the pandemic may have helped us see that some of the things used to do were utterly exhausting. Now that we had a chance to stop, we realize we don’t want to go back to that way of living.

Over the past year, we may have started reading for pleasure, learned to knit, or started baking. We may not want to give these up simply because we can return to our former activities. It will be important to assess the benefits of our past, current, and future activities and determine to do what makes us feel fulfilled – even if it’s different than what we did prior to 2020.

Altered Perception of Risk and Danger

Simple things like going out for a meal, visiting a friend, or happy hour drinks after work may no longer seem like safe activities. Our perception of risk and danger has been altered. In some ways, that change may be good. In other ways, less so.

It is one thing to remain diligent about hand washing as a normal preventive measure against the transmission of viruses. This is something that will benefit us as individuals and as a society. Staying isolated in our homes due to fear is quite another thing. Isolation and fear are not healthy responses. Related resource: Trauma

Our understanding of risk and danger has changed, thought not always for the better. It will be important to assess – and sometimes challenge – our understanding in order to live a healthy, balanced life.

Easing Anxiety

A certain amount of anxiety is to be expected as restrictions lift. Most people will find anxiety lessening over time without any effort. However, if this proves to be difficult for you, you can choose to make your way into the post-pandemic world by deliberately facing the transition. 

Here are some ideas to make the transition easier:

  • Start slowly: There is no need to jump back into pre-pandemic habits. Perhaps you begin by only dining out where there are outdoor tables and work your way to dining inside.
  • Embrace the New: Everyone changes over time and the pandemic may have accelerated those changes. Maybe we realized we were overextending ourselves or that we don’t really like some of the things we spent our time doing before. These things may have left us burned out and should be left behind. Likewise, embracing the changes that added value to our lives over that past year or so is a positive way forward into this new post-pandemic world
  • Be judicious about whom you spend time with: To start, it’s okay to limit your social circle to those who are fully vaccinated. Over time that group will grow. Your confidence in the effectiveness of the vaccine will also grow.
  • Limit outings: Instead of jumping straight into the deep end, try going out for short periods of time and extending your outings slowly.
  • Remember what’s true now: Recognize anxious thoughts for what they are – the brain’s response to possible danger. Reminding yourself of the evidence that we are coming to the other side of the pandemic can help you keep perspective.
  • Acknowledge and get to the bottom of your fears: Determining the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of your beliefs and challenging them where necessary can help ease anxiety.

There is no one-size-fits-all way out of the pandemic. It is important to acknowledge what’s changed, both in ourselves and in what is considered safe.

If you find that you or a loved one is embracing reckless behavior or that anxiety simply isn’t easing, reach out for help before it’s too late.


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