Post-Pandemic Blues: When Reacclimating is a Struggle
When Colorado expanded their COVID vaccine eligibility to include all adults, I was thrilled. I spent hours that first day chasing leads for anywhere that still had appointments available, before a coworker hooked me up with a drive-up vaccination clinic he’d learned about through a FB group created specifically to connect people trying to get the vaccine with clinics and pharmacies that still had doses in stock.
Four weeks later, I was fully vaccinated and eager to start living a slightly safer, slightly freer life. My fiancé and I moved to Denver last summer in the midst of the pandemic, and I couldn’t wait to actually get to know this city I’d been living in for almost a year. And that’s when my mental health started to take a turn.
For my anxious and introverted self, social distancing, staying home unless absolutely necessary, and avoiding face-to-face interactions with people was actually kind of nice. Sure, it took some getting used to, but I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to work from home, and I discovered that I didn’t really get FOMO when there was nothing much to miss out on. I wasn’t seeing people outside of Zoom calls anyway, so what did it matter if I was only a couple miles from my friends and family or halfway across the country from them? If anything, I felt proud of myself for choosing to stay home and not put myself or anyone else at risk.
But now that vaccinations are becoming more prevalent and it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to start doing more pre-COVID activities once again, all the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and social anxiety that I was so relieved not to have experienced last summer when I first moved have started cropping up. I’ve started to dread and avoid everyday activities like walking my dog, because it feels like every time I leave my house, I pass by groups of people eagerly catching up after having gone so long without seeing each other while enjoying the coffee shops and restaurants our neighborhood has to offer.
The social-anxiety triggers I haven’t had to face as often over the past year are resurfacing, and I feel like all the progress I’d made in managing my anxiety, depression, and panic disorder through years of psychotherapy have gone out the window.
It turns out, as I’m sure many of you are already aware, I’m not unique in this area. According to a poll put out by the American Psychological Association, about 50% of people are feeling anxious about having to readjust to in-person interactions in the post-pandemic world. Likewise, NBC News reports that there’s been a recent uptick in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD according to research done by the Boston University School of Public Health.
If you, like me, are part of that 50%, there are some things you can do to help reduce those anxieties. The New York Times put together a great article back in November titled “How to Deal With Quarantine-Induced Social Anxiety” with recommendations that still ring true now that we’re starting to leave quarantine behind. The BBC created a similar article earlier this month: “Covid: How to deal with social anxiety as restrictions ease”, as did CNBC: “Nearly 50% of people are anxious about getting back to normal, pre-pandemic life — here’s how to cope.”
The common themes of these articles include practicing mindfulness to stay grounded in the present, recognizing negative thought patterns and consciously challenging them while refocusing on the positive, and giving yourself time to reacclimate without judging yourself if it feels like you’re not adapting as well or as quickly as you’d like.
For those of us with mental health concerns, reacclimating may feel like one more challenge after a year of challenges, and it’s completely normal to feel some feelings about that. But—and I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone here—try to treat yourself and your mental health with the same patience, kindness, and encouragement you would show to anyone else going through a hard time. You deserve just as much support as anyone, and I hope we can all give ourselves a little bit of that.