Reintegration into Society Post-COVID
Excited yet nervous. Looking forward to doing things again, but wary of being around strangers. Being able to hug others but unable to shake the nagging voice in your head about spreading germs. Every day more and more people are vaccinated and we move closer to a post-COVID world. It has been a very long, hard year, and we are ready for that new normal. But after fearing being in close proximity to people for so many months, are we mentally prepared to reenter society?
The pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of our country. We have seen an increase in anxiety and depression, substance use in order to cope, and serious consideration of suicide. Whether or not you were directly impacted by COVID-19, you likely have experienced a certain level of traumatization because of social distancing and isolation. Some of us are ready to throw caution (and our masks!) to the wind. Others will be haunted by feelings of agoraphobia for months to come.
For those who are nervous about getting back out there when the time comes, it’s all about baby steps:
1. Acknowledge and be aware of your feelings. This has been a difficult time for everyone, and each of us must decide for ourselves where our comfort levels are and not to push others one way or another. All feelings are completely normal, and all feelings are okay.
2. Maintain your connections. Even if you prefer to continue social distancing, make sure you have someone to talk to. You don’t have to talk about your feelings unless it helps, but it is important to maintain your relationships throughout this entire process.
3. Exercise and/or meditate. COVID-19 has been nothing if not an opportunity to try something new. If you haven’t already picked up a new hobby, now is the time to start. Thirty minutes of physical activity can decrease depression symptoms, and meditation can clear the mind and calm the soul.
4. Practice exposure therapy with small, attainable goals for yourself. Make sure it is something you have control over. Go for a walk on a popular trail or join a (very) small group. The more you get out there, the easier it will become.
5. Think positive. Focus on the things going well in your life. Be thankful and commit to gratitude. This might be a long process of reshaping your way of thinking, but you can do it! Your mental health is worth it.
If your anxiety is lingering and starting to interfere with daily tasks and life, keep an eye out for PTSD. Post traumatic stress disorder usually develops within one month of a shocking, scary or dangerous event. This pandemic definitely qualifies as a shocking, scary and dangerous event. Symptoms of PTSD include:
• Flashbacks or nightmares
• Avoiding people, places, activities you once enjoyed
• Difficulty sleeping
• Increased anxiety or depression
• Negative thoughts about yourself, other people, the world, the future
• Trouble concentrating or having memory problems
• Feeling emotionally numb
• Being easily startled or frightened
• Irritable, angry or aggressive
• Substance use to cope with feelings
If you are experiencing the above symptoms, speak with your doctor right away. The longer PTSD goes untreated, the more damage it can cause. A number of treatments and therapies are available to help ease symptoms of PTSD and regain control of your mental health.
We are all weary of this pandemic, but just because restrictions are being relaxed doesn’t mean you will immediately feel relaxed around others. Give it time. No one can tell you when you are or are not ready to integrate yourself back into society. If you follow the steps above, you will take charge of your life and get back out there on your own terms in your own time. We are all in this together.
Sources: Olsson, Regan. “Will We Have PTSD as a Result of COVID-19?” Banner Health. August 18, 2020. https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/teach-me/will-we-have-ptsd-as-a-result-of-covid-19.
Tucker, Phebe MD, Christopher S. Czapla MD. “Post-COVID Stress Disoder: Another Emerging Consequence of the Global Pandemic.” Psychiatric Times. January 8, 2021. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/post-covid-stress-disorder-emerging-consequence-global-pandemic.