Navigating the return to “normal”

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since the world was rocked by the arrival of COVID-19 and the life changes that came with it. Seemingly overnight, our lives came to a screeching halt, causing fear, anxiety, panic, isolation, and a feeling of loneliness that many people had never felt before. For those individuals already dealing with depression, it brought with it even bigger challenges. 

Without warning, the entire world had to figure out how to survive the unknown. We had no idea how long it would be before life as we knew it would return. In the beginning, we thought it might be weeks. But weeks turned to months, and at one point, we were warned it could be years before we could safely spend time with others without fear of contracting a virus that was killing thousands. 

So we stayed home. We awaited instructions. We canceled weddings, and we mourned alone. We figured out how to teach our children, and do our jobs, and get our groceries, and stay in touch with loved ones with as little human contact as possible. 

But now, more and more, we’re seeing the world return to “normal.” As more people get vaccinated and the world reopens, you may find yourself asking yourself: now what? What does this mean for me? Furthermore, you may find yourself unable to identify exactly how you feel about it. It’s not unusual for anxiety and excitement to go hand in hand, and in this particular situation, it makes perfect sense to be feeling both things simultaneously. 

It’s important to understand that there’s no right or wrong way to feel about what’s coming next. For many people, being shut away from the world brought a sense of relief. The pressures of being social, visiting with toxic family members, working outside of the home, and maintaining a busy schedule came to a halt with the announcement of quarantine, remote learning and working, and social distancing. 

As things open back up, it’s natural to feel apprehensive about things. Even those who enjoyed the hustle and bustle of a busy life, might feel overwhelmed at the thought of going back to in person work. People who loved large and noisy social gatherings might find themselves nervous about seeing even smaller groups of people after so long.   Or maybe the thought of accepting a hug from a friend or family member—even if it would have come naturally to you before—might have you feeling anxious and confused. Wondering if your friends and family have changed, or if things will be the same, and if you’ll still feel comfortable around the people and in the situations you used to, are all very real and valid concerns. The unknown can be scary, even if you’re also excited about what might come of it. 

If you’re unsure about how you feel, or you’re overwhelmed and anxious about what’s going to happen next, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to take the next steps alone, either. Start small. Take a walk with a friend. Someone you can confide in her that even though you’re excited to see her, and others, that you’re also feeling scared and anxious. Ease back into in person work, if your employer will allow it. Don’t be afraid to enjoy the little things that you DO feel excited about. It doesn’t have to be either/or. You can feel both excited and anxious about returning to normalcy! 

Most importantly, process these thoughts and feelings with your therapist. Engaging in therapy during this time is just as important as when the pandemic first began. Having someone to listen to your concerns and help you figure out coping strategies for handling what comes next is one of the best ways to make sure you’re prepared mentally and emotionally. Even good change can be overwhelming, and it never hurts to have extra help during times of transition!

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