Had you asked me a year ago, I would have readily told you that I couldn’t wait for the pandemic to be over and for our lives to go back to normal.
I missed my friends, I missed working from the neighborhood coffee shop, I missed strolling through Boots.
However, one year on and I am no longer as comfortable with any of those activities. The pandemic has left its mark on my mental health, and things that were once so simple have now become infinitely more difficult.
Which has got me thinking: will we ever be able to go back to normal, and is it okay not to be ready to go back right now?
Social Anxiety and a Fear of Public Places
While both the UK and the US are opening up to an extent, we have spent too much time in lockdown to just be able to hop back into the lives we once led.
For starters, the pandemic is most certainly not over, and our fears of contracting Covid in a public place are still very much valid. And when we have been legitimately afraid of human contact for over a year, how can we even expect ourselves to return to hugging without that flutter of unease running down our spine?
We have also spent that same amount of time with very little social interaction, which has made all of us much more prone to developing social anxiety. Even the most extroverted among us can expect to feel a bit more tongue tied and anxious where they have previously only felt relaxed and exhilarated.
The Human Touch
Humans are social beings, and we very heavily rely on human interaction, and what Bruce Springsteen so aptly calls the human touch. Without it, we begin to suffer, and we have been locked away from each other for too long for it not to be felt.
While we may have learned to appreciate our friends and family more, we are now used to seeing them over a screen or at a distance, and it will take some time to get back to normal. Whatever normal may be.
Where Do We Go From Here?
How are we to combat the effects isolation has had on our mental health? Well, for starters, by admitting life will not be quite the same as before.
Accept that It’s Happened
Instead of trying to force yourself into behaviors and habits you used to have back in 2019, work on accepting the fact that your life has changed.
Whenever we undergo a traumatic experience, which the pandemic undoubtedly was, we need some time to process and adjust. Since we are still in the midst of that same traumatic event, it may be harder to figure out where do we go next. Start by accepting there is a new normal on the horizon, and that it may not be the same as the old.
Know You are Not Alone
The wonderful thing about the pandemic (if I’m allowed to use that word) is that we’re all in the same boat. Many of the divides that used to isolate us from each other have been shattered, and people with completely different backgrounds and belief systems are going through the exact same thing.
Don’t beat yourself up for feeling anxious or unmotivated. Don’t compare yourself to someone else who seems to be living their best life. Know that we are all affected by the situation, and that we’re all struggling at one time or another. Some people choose to put on a brave face, others choose to let all of their rawness and vulnerability show. Both of these comping methods are equally as valid.
Take Baby Steps
When you do feel ready to do something you haven’t been able to do in a while, don’t rush yourself or push yourself if you don’t feel ready. Even if your friends are asking you to join them in the pub, if you are not ready, don’t accept the invitation because you feel you need to.
Start exposing yourself to the things that make you feel uncomfortable slowly and at a pace that works for you. If you start to feel very anxious and panicky, it’s totally okay to leave. Don’t be mad at yourself for experiencing completely normal human emotions.
Make Positive Changes
Surrounding yourself with positive things will help you feel better about life in general and your post-pandemic life more specifically.
Perhaps you want to start going on longer walks with a friend? Less crowded areas (especially if you are able to venture out into nature) are safer than public areas, so you might feel a lot more relaxed there.
If you are trying to combat the feeling of loneliness, you may want to adopt a dog. Dogs have an incredible impact on our health, and they can get you to move more and interact with others more often.
Think about the life you want to live after the pandemic, and the lessons you have walked out with. Work towards that vision slowly and carefully, setting new boundaries with friends and family if you have to, and focusing on yourself and your mental and physical health.
Don’t let yourself hold yourself back from achieving this version of your life. It is possible, but you will likely need to overcome a fear or two.
Ready Or Not
The world as we know it will continue to change. All we can reasonably do is accept this fact, and do our very best to adapt as well as we can. Instead of placing overly high expectations on yourself, try to make more considered and careful choices, slowly building up to the version of yourself you want to be.