Not Ready to Return Back to Normal? You’re Not Alone

June 7, 2021
Alice Kim

The Pandemic Has Changed Us All

Indeed, the pandemic has made some huge changes in our daily lives.   For better or for worse, Covid-19 has forced us all to slow down and make some radical shifts.  Some of us have opened a business, some of us have moved to places we never imagined we’d move to, others have made career changes.  But even after months and months of waiting and craving normalcy, people are now decidedly ambivalent and nervous about returning back to normal.  

In a Washington Post article about the fear of returning back to normal, Lucy McBride, a primary care doctor in D.C., says trauma is to blame. 

     “Trauma has a way of doing that to us. We’ve lost more than 500,000 lives in this country alone. We’ve suffered unprecedented economic, social and emotional upheaval. And regardless of our individual pandemic experience, each of us has faced some level of loss, grief, and despair.”    

— Lucy McBride, primary care doctor

Comfort in Social Isolation

For the socially gregarious, lock-down measures have been particularly tough.  With the majority of human interactions now done over the internet through a computer screen or smartphone, we have all yearned, at some point, for face-to-face communication.   But even those who crave human contact have grown accustomed to social isolation.  Although the lack of human interaction has led to feelings of loneliness and anxiety, the majority of people still feel disconcerted about being able to physically touch a loved one or attend social events, even though they are fully vaccinated.              

As life inches back towards normal, the end of isolation can also bring up feelings of anxiety and resistance.  For those of us who seek quieter lives and prefer to be alone, the pandemic has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise.  Even though it has been a traumatic year for all of us, many of us have settled into comfortable habits and set routines.  Now that the end is near, it’s difficult to imagine an out-ward facing life that doesn’t involve sweatpants and pandemic puppies.  The prospect of even having to face people again has gotten us all thinking irrational thoughts such as, “do I even remember how to do small talk?”.  

Mentally Preparing for Normalcy

Social isolation is not necessarily negative, and craving solitude is quite normal.  Being alone can be meditative, restorative, and healing.  But when it is unwanted and for extended periods of time, social isolation can affect mental and physical health in a negative way.  COVID-19’s stay-at-home orders, and severely curtailed community gatherings and leisure activities, have created an epidemic of loneliness and PTSD.  But as we have all navigated and created systems to cope during the pandemic, the prospect of change can make us feel unsure about disrupting our comfortable routines. 

It can feel confusing to admit to ourselves that we’re not ready for the pandemic to end.  For those of us in that camp, I’ve created a list of self-care measures that will help prepare us for normalcy. 

Self-care tip

1.  Sit with your feelings and acknowledge them.

We’ve all endured the traumatic events of 2020 and beyond, but it’s okay to feel conflicted about the pandemic coming to an end.  Sitting with the trauma and acknowledging our anxiety helps to normalize and de-stigmatize guilty feelings.  Not wanting to overcommit to weekend activities is normal, feeling anxious about changing routines is normal, and not wanting the world to go back to the way it was before, is normal.  

2.  Take care of yourself. 

Eat balanced meals, exercise regularly, and make sure to get enough sleep.  These are all things that you can do to create an optimal environment for your mind and body.  

3.  Pursue activities that bring you joy.

Engaging in activities such as meditation, crafts, journaling, or breathing exercises are all associated with relieving stress and anxiety.  Even 10 minutes of outdoor time can lead us to feeling happier.  

4.  Take baby steps.

If you feel anxious about getting back out in the world, take it one day at a time.  Scheduling time for communication will allow you to slowly ease back into normalcy.  Start with loved ones and people who understand and respect your privacy.  

5.  It’s okay to say no.  

Pre-pandemic, we lived in a yes-world.  Much like hustle culture, where overcommitting is a sport, the same can be said for social activities.  The pandemic has given us all a new perspective on the importance of making time for ourselves, and setting those boundaries can prevent you from ultimately feeling emotionally drained.  

As we continue to shed light on Mental Health Awareness, it is important to talk about what awaits us in the future.  The anxiety of the unknown can be overwhelming.  Some may feel excited about being able to return to normalcy, while others may secretly feel like the end is coming too soon.  What we can definitively say, is that we have all been affected by the pandemic on varying degrees of trauma.  As we enter the next phase of post-pandemic life, making sure to process that trauma can allow us to cultivate self-compassion and create our own closure for when we are ready.  

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