Back in March, life as we knew it changed. When the COVID-19 virus began spreading through our country, stay-at home orders were enforced and all non-essential businesses closed. Although it seems like that was a lifetime ago, it has only been three months since we were told to remain at home and avoid all social interactions. Back then, most of us could not wait for the curve to flatten so life as we knew it could resume and we could see our loved ones without using the screen of a computer. Now that rates of the virus have slowed and restrictions are easing, a new anxiety is setting in for many as we begin to plan to return to our old way of life.
Although this return to normal has positive implications for the economy, employment, and even our beauty regimens, mental health problems have been at an all-time high throughout the pandemic and the impending change back to reality can create even more instability and fear.
As many of us have been forced to embrace this new normal, we have gotten into the groove of living with restrictions and only leaving the house for essentials. As things are slowly changing and businesses are beginning to reopen, we can certainly sense that more change is coming. Anytime change takes place, the transition often comes with a sense of anxiety about the uncertainty of the future and returning to our old ways is surely going to be an adjustment for most.
Adding to the emotional insecurity is the fact that the virus hasn’t gone away and the fear of spiking numbers and a second outbreak is hard to ignore, even though many have been itching to return to some sort of normalcy since the outbreak began. The fear of contracting the virus and passing it on to others is still very real. Though some are prioritizing their mental health by engaging in social distancing gatherings, this can lead to even more stress as it is impossible to know where people have been, if they’ve been careful, and who they have been exposed to.
This anxiety and stress can feel even more heightened when attempting to return to a pre-COVID life if there are negative feelings surrounding one’s former job, home situation, or general lifestyle. Even if you did relish aspects of your old life, many have found that this forced break has provided the time to breathe, slow down, and reflect on what is important such as increased quality time with family, improved sleep, and connecting with loved ones from far away through online platforms. The idea of returning to a toxically busy and un-balanced world with a lack of free time can be nerve wracking and can induce stress after this enforced pause on life. With so much still in question, such as childcare, economic struggles, a vaccine, etc., many are finding that they are living with uncomfortable feelings around the approaching changes.
If you are struggling to find what makes you comfortable while staying safe physically, mentally, and socially, it can be a very confusing and anxiety-provoking time. Given all these stressors, it is vital to emphasize the importance of preparing for the possible “return anxiety” as you ease back into a lifestyle that is hopefully both rewarding and allows you to continue with the practices that made you feel fulfilled over the past few months. Consider the following tips to help you ease back into your new “old routine.”
1. Be gentle with yourself. If you are feeling particularly anxious, stressed, nervous, or overly fearful, allow yourself to feel these emotions and give yourself time to process these thoughts and feelings. Just as you would show compassion to friends and family members who are struggling, taking care of yourself is just as important. We have been dealing with a global health pandemic and our lives have been disrupted like never before. Now is the time to practice self-love and self-care and work these ideals into your daily routines, whatever this may look like to you (i.e. exercise, comfort cooking, at-home spa days, daily meditation, journaling, etc.).
- Maintain routines that have been working. Figure out what positive habits and activities you have cultivated during quarantine that you plan to continue incorporating in your life. Spend some time to map out a plan of how to keep these integral habits in your routine while slowly transitioning out of the house and back into this new world. If you have been enjoying weekly family zooms, keep these scheduled for an indefinite period. If you have taken this time to catch up on sleep, work to create a sleep plan that has you still getting your 7-9 hours, possibly even setting rules on replacing electronic screen time with much-needed sleep time.
- Take one day at a time. Life certainly will not be returning to normal overnight, and as you may have guessed, probably will not ever be the same as pre-COVID life. As restrictions ease in your area and you begin getting out more, continue to reassess how you feel on a daily basis. Prioritize reintroducing the things that are most important to your wellbeing. Try to take it slow, notice what feelings and emotions arise, and feel free to take a step back if it all seems too overwhelming. There is no shame in feeling that you are not ready to move forward with certain things. Transitioning rapidly back to old habits and activities can increase panic and anxiety. Take care of yourself and take things as slow as feels comfortable.
- Ignore the masses and do what works best for you. Consider your needs, wants, and the boundaries you will need to establish. This may mean talking to your employer about the flexibility of continuing to work from home, investing in a bike to avoid public transportation, and limiting the in-person activities such as outdoor dining and gatherings in parks and backyards that many are flocking to. Continue with the things that create comfort and stability in your life and consider regulating your social media usage, which can help you stick to your guns and reduce any peer pressure about jumping back in too quickly.
- Ask for assistance. If you have tried to work through your difficult emotions with no luck, it may be wise to seek out professional help. Therapy can be a great tool to help you develop strategies for managing problematic and debilitating thinking patters. Additionally, seeking out friends and family members to talk to can also be a great support as they may be able to provide comfort, familiarity, and an empathetic perspective. Community organizations can provide additional local tools and assistance.
If you are struggling to get back into your health and fitness routine or feel like the snacks have been calling a little too frequently, Merritt Clubs will be offering several programs and classes to get you back on track https://merrittclubs.com/virtual-programming/outdoor-fitness/ . What is important to remember is that you are not alone in this and there are resources out there to help you get through this tough and confusing time.
Although things may never return to a pre-COVID state, life will continue, and we will all be faced with the reality of getting back into this new and unpredictable world. Focus on taking care of yourself and try to look at this positively to make important life changes, which can be helpful when dealing with the stress of “return anxiety.” And it certainly doesn’t hurt to think about all of the great things that will soon come back into our lives that we have certainly missed, including kisses, hugs, and sitting around the table with loved ones sharing meals and creating memories.