As more people receive vaccines, life as we knew it before the pandemic is starting to return.

We are seeing restrictions relax on travel and businesses, small gatherings are allowed, and many are eager to get back to normal routines and activities. But after more than a year with limited places to go and things to do, some people may feel anxious and hesitant about stepping back into everyday activities.

As the world slowly returns to normal, some can feel anxious about even simple, everyday activities when they haven’t done them for a long time. Plus, the safe spaces we created in our homes during the height of the pandemic may now make us feel less safe and more fearful when stepping outside the bubbles we’ve created.

To a certain extent, COVID-related distress manifests in much the same way as any other response to any other stressful activity. Some emotional signs of distress may include increased irritability, anger, intense sadness, or even emotional numbing.

Behavioral changes may include a loss of interest in things once enjoyed, social withdrawal, and increased use of substances such as tobacco and alcohol. Some common physical effects of distress can also include changes in appetite, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and poor sleep. Other manifestations may include increased headaches, muscle tension, and stomach problems.

Understanding your feelings and taking deliberate steps to deal with situations that cause fear and anxiety can help.   A few tips may be helpful as you navigate your way back into the world.

Dealing With Your Feelings

The first steps to dealing with any feelings of fear and anxiety is to realize that those feelings are normal. Then focus on controlling those things you can, and acknowledge what things you can’t.

“Some of the things under your control include physical distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands,” says Philip J. Fizur, PsyD, a clinical health psychologist at Cooper University Health Care. “But you can take it even further and control things like eating well (although the occasional indulgence can be a nice way of coping), exercising regularly, building good sleeps habits, and avoiding excessive use of substances like alcohol and tobacco.”

For anything outside of your control, mindfulness-based interventions can help build your comfort, flexibility, and ability to adapt to situations that cause fear and anxiety. By staying connected to what is happening in the present moment, we re-engage our senses and our anxiety tends to decrease.

To get back into daily routines and activities you previously enjoyed, Dr. Fizur suggests focusing on a specific activity or situation you need to get reacclimated to – going back into an office to work or just going to the grocery store, for example – and making a plan to take small, actionable steps to get back in the swing of things. Try to make it a habit again.

“Taking this approach can be helpful by allowing the process of natural habituation to occur, but also helps us to bolster our sense of control and strengthen our ability to process our emotions,” Dr. Fizur says.

Helping Others Deal with COVID-Related Anxiety

If you notice that a family member or friend struggling with pandemic-related anxiety, simply pointing out that you’ve noticed some changes in them and asking how they are doing could help. Just the question serves as an invitation for them to talk about their feelings.  It’s important not to pressure loved ones into expressing their feelings. Rather, you should just reinforce that you are there for them when they are ready to talk, or if they need help.

Some other strategies to help family members and loved ones:

  • Acknowledge and support their struggle.
  • Ask if they want advice (and only give it when asked) or just need space to vent and feel validated.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Resist the urge to judge or impose your own beliefs.
  • Relate to what they are going through if you can – without taking over the conversation.
  • Reinforce your openness to help them.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help if their distress is interfering with their quality of their life.
  • Offers suggestions of resources that may help – but only if they ask for them.

If you or a loved one is feeling reluctant to leave the house, or washing hands and surfaces far beyond public health recommendations, or constantly checking on the well-being of loved ones, may suggest an anxiety-related illness caused by COVID that may require professional help.

Resources if You or a Loved One Need Extra Support

Often the best way to deal with pandemic-related anxiety and fear is to stay connected to your family members and friends. But if you need additional support, Dr. Fizur notes there are other resources available that may help.

  • COVID Coach– a free app for everyone produced by Veterans Affairs that supports self-care and mental health during the pandemic
  • FACE COVID– a structured guide (as a downloadable PDF) to putting steps in place to respond to the COVID pandemic
  • Find a Therapist– a resource from Psychology Today to find professional help
  • Therapist referrals – you can call the number on the back of your insurance card for referrals

Source: Cooper Health

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Article by Michele Norton
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