Post-Pandemic Anxiety: How to Handle Re-entering Society

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As more establishments open up to in-person operations, people might experience anxiety, or uneasiness, around the idea of being with others again in a post-pandemic world. For more than a year, the concept of being around people equaled danger – so how do we deal with the idea of in-person social interaction?

Anxiety – what is it?

Anxiety is a general feeling of dis-ease or worrying about the future. As people begin to enter the “new normal” of a post-pandemic life, some might feel like they are entering a foreign space. When the pandemic began, we went from our familiar lives to a foreign situation of isolation. It has been more than a year since the pandemic began, so now, social interaction might feel like the less-familiar, foreign environment, increasing our anxiety.

But, we have muscle memory.

“Muscle memory has to do with the duration of time in which we’ve experienced something,” said Jen Jackson, assistant program manager, licensed clinical social worker and licensed addiction counselor at the Mental Health Center of Denver.

And the good thing is, the duration of our time of ‘togetherness’ before the pandemic is longer than the duration of the pandemic itself. So, although entering a post-pandemic world might feel foreign at first, we can ease ourselves into it by taking small, baby steps. 

How do I cope with being around other people?

“Repetition and easing back into things may solve some discomfort,” Jen said. “What wouldn’t help is avoidance.”

For example, if your employer is returning to in-person operations, take it slow and start by simply visiting the office.

“Just go and see how it feels. Try it on,” Jen said. “Dipping a toe in and realizing the water isn’t that cold can help trigger that muscle memory. It helps you remember you’ve been there before and it’s safe.”

How do I handle the unknown?

“A lot of anxiety comes from the unknown, which has been the hallmark of this pandemic,” said Cari Ladd, licensed clinical social worker at the Mental Health Center of Denver. “We can find comfort and decrease anxiety by going back to what we do know.”

Think about what you have done throughout the pandemic to keep yourself safe and focus on what is in your control. For example, you can wear a mask, wash your hands, meet people outdoors and get vaccinated. Utilize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and COVID-19 updates from the state of Colorado to stay informed.

In addition, add some structure and predictability into your day.

“Scheduling lunch, a walk or an event you can look forward to creates predictability, which can decrease anxiety,” Cari said.

We’re in this together.

Anxiety skyrockets when you are the only one feeling that way. Discussing our anxiety around a post-pandemic world openly with friends, family and coworkers can help.

“No one is alone in this anxiety of the unknown. It’s a very normal thing to feel,” Jen said. “We might not know what it’s going to look like moving forward. But we can have faith that we’re in this together.”