We have spent so much of the past 15 months indoors with limited access to our “normal” activities and livelihoods. Many of us battled being lonely. At times, the acute stress brought on by all of the unknowns weighed us down.
Yet, we learned to work from home, to go to school from home, to practice our faiths from home, to maintain communication with friends and family from home. And we got good at it!
Now we’re faced with a new challenge. How do we live in what is fast becoming a “post-pandemic” world? How do we deal with the social anxiety and panic attacks from resuming our “normal” activities? You’ve been vaccinated, do you want to be indoors with others without wearing a mask? Which activities do you resume? How do you put the “social” piece back into your life? Do you even want to? Some of you might be thinking that working from home in sweats was not such a bad gig! Not being obligated to attend your kooky cousin’s birthday party lifted a heavy burden off of your chest.
All of these questions create a new, palpable swirl of anxiety. In my Evanston/Chicago-based practice, my clients struggle to find answers that support the peace they want to create in their post-pandemic lives.
What can you do to ease back into some of your pre-pandemic activities? How can you cope?
Let’s take a look.
You might have worries about returning to your morning commute and being in close quarters to people on a train, subway, or bus. Perhaps, you found being around so many people in your pre-pandemic life exhausting. The thought of having to manage those relationships again heightens your anxiety. Scientists have a name for what you are feeling: cave syndrome. If you have a history of anxiety disorders or OCD, you might feel intensely vulnerable.
“The pandemic-related changes created a lot of fear and anxiety because of the risk of illness and death, along with the repercussions in many areas of life,” she says. “Even though a person may be vaccinated, they still may find it difficult to let go of that fear because they’re overestimating the risk and probability.”
In my practice as an anxiety therapist, I am seeing what some are calling FOGO: fear of going out. We need to practice being around people again. We need to slowly increase our time in public spaces or our social interactions.
In an article at psychologytoday.com, Elizabeth Palumbo recommends using the following evidence-based strategy called REST. Using this game plan, Palumbo suggests that you should relax, evaluate, set an intention, and take action. Calm yourself first with breathing or grounding exercises. In this state, you are better able to get a clear picture of the current anxiety-provoking situation. Afterward, decide how you want to handle the situation. Which next steps would most help you to move forward in a positive direction? The only thing left to do: execute! Take decisive action. Get a more detailed explanation of the REST strategy here.
Psychiatrist Andrew Bregman encourages people to learn a lesson from how people dealt with their post-traumatic stress after the pandemic of 1918. To help heal trauma, people reached out to those in their circle or community, checked in with them, and helped them out. He also suggests that we begin our journey into public spaces with help from our friends or partners. Go out with your partner or close friend. After the outing, the two of you can discuss how you felt. This processing will help to make future gatherings easier to handle. Bregman advises you to go to events when they are likely to be less busy. For instance, hit the cinema in the afternoon during a matinee and skip the evening showings of the latest movies.
Did you know that some of the new thinking and behavior patterns you took on during COVID could help you cope in this post-pandemic period? Did you get clarity around what is most important to you? As you move forward, you can include in your “new” life only those people and activities which you value most. Did you start exercising or doing meditation to help you cope with the stress, fear, or grief associated with being sick, the possibility of being sick, or losing someone you love? You can maintain these practices to help you live a fuller life now.
Dr. Claudia Finkelstein, associate professor of medicine at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, says that COVID-19 impacted nearly everyone. She suggests making a list of all of your “assets and needs.” Then, use this list to determine with greater accuracy where you are in dealing with the stress and how you can move to help yourself.
Craft another list, offers Dr. Finkelstein, of the activities you want to engage in and a list of those which you would like to drop at the moment or for a time. Do you want to attend live events? Do you want to go to restaurants or bars? Do you want to go to the movies or museums? Slowly begin doing the activities on your list.
How can we help you?
In our practice in the Evanston/Chicago area, we are working on helping our clients to change their thinking and behavior patterns. We use a modality called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
With CBT, we establish first your ideas and anxiety about navigating through the waters of post-pandemic life. Next, we would help you to identify new thoughts and behaviors that would lessen your anxiety. The more you focus on the new thoughts and do the new behaviors, the more you will see your anxiety lessen.
Please reach out to us today. We understand what you are dealing with and are here to help.
We provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Relationship Therapy, and Hypnotherapy, for women in Evanston and Chicago IL, virtually and in person. We help women who feel isolated, anxious, and overwhelmed in their lives to find more happiness, satisfaction, and self-acceptance. We journey with you to help you manage your anxiety and depression, so you can find relief from the loneliness and feel more connected to others.
There is hope.