September 7, 2021

Coping with the Return to “Normal”

As life begins to open back up and we return to social settings like work and school, it is important to prepare ourselves for a successful transition. We have spent a little over a year in lockdown, attempting to avoid getting into contact with an invisible virus by taking precautions and avoiding all the things we require for healthy living, like being outside and socializing with others. These circumstances instilled in us a sense of anxiety that may have been helpful in keeping us indoors and complying with lockdown protocols but can become a hinderance on our lives now that we are returning to social settings.

We should be excited to go into a post lockdown life, but we should also keep in mind that we might not be the same as we were before. Spending a long period of time away from new people and reducing our circles drastically can cause our social stamina to drop considerably. So as we return to those settings we have not been in for so long, it can be considered natural to feel anxious. Anxiety tend to present differently depending on the person. You may experience one or more of the following:

  • More nervous than usual to be outside
  • Restless
  • Tense
  • A fear of something going wrong
  • Panic
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Ruminating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Avoiding social settings

People tend to be taken by surprise when they experience these symptoms, not sure what is happening, or maybe thinking “I’ve never had a problem being around people before, WHAT IS GOING ON?!” There is nothing wrong with you!!! We are creatures of habit and do not adjust to change quickly. A year is not a short period of time, so it will take some time for you to get back to your social self.

To minimize the impact of anxiety on your life, there are a variety of things that we can to help us cope:

Deep breathing is a wonderful technique that triggers the brain to calm the body down and not be in the fight or flight response that the event is triggering. The beauty of deep breathing is that it serves two purposes, the first is that it allows us to calm down and relax, and the other is that it is teaching the brain to not be in an anxious state in these situations in the future. With repetition the brain starts to learn that situations like these do not warrant an anxiety response.

Exercise tends to show up as a coping mechanism for a lot of mental health coping strategies, and for good reason. The human body seems to respond better to a variety of life situations and events when it is active and healthy. Exercise helps us cope better with stressful and anxiety inducing situations and allows us to react better to those situations, as well as improve mood and tends to boost one’s self-esteem.

The impact of nature on anxiety and depression has been well documented in the field of positive psychology. Being out surrounded by trees and wildlife tends to allow people to release their anxiety and the effects of being in nature actually continue to reduce levels of anxiety in people even days after the activity. So maybe consider going for a walk, hike, or exercise at a park or hike trail, or go fishing and golfing.

Spending time with loved ones and pets is another way to manage feelings of anxiety. Being around those we love and that love us, allows us to be in a comfortable space where we don’t have to keep up appearances and can be open about our experiences. Pets also provide a therapeutic effect on us, and allow us to decompress and relax, it could be the unconditional love but who’s to say.

Self care is important for us to maintain good mental health. Journaling, drawing, dancing, swimming, taking a bath, etc.… In essence anything that you engage in that leaves you feeling recharged and ready to face the world. The thing about self care is you should keep doing it even if you’re feeling better, self care is a preventative tool as well as a treatment tool, engaging in selfcare when you are feeling happy can allow you to have a higher capacity to deal with stressful situations without getting anxious or reduce the amount of anxiety you experience.

Last but not least, sleep. Sleep plays a very important role in how we function. Try to remember a day where you were not rested. Did you feel that your fuse was shorter and little things that usually don’t bother you, you considered very irritating? Sleep is very important for physical and emotional regulation. Anxiety and technology tend to negatively affect our quality of sleep, it is good practice to try and turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed, and creating a routine like brushing your teeth and showering before going to bed. Over time this will act as a signal to your brain that you are getting ready for bed, and it will begin to release melatonin and reduce activation levels.

The takeaway is try to be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to adjust to the newness of the outdoors and social settings. Keep healthy habits like exercise and sleep hygiene. But most importantly do not struggle in silence, if you are concerned about the way you are feeling and want help managing it, reach out to family and friends, and reach out to a mental health professional. Therapy does not have to be a last resort; it can be a preventative measure where you work with a mental health professional to set you up for success.

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