How to Manage Post-COVID Anxiety

Worry, fear, sadness and exhaustion are expected emotional responses to a global crisis such as the pandemic. However, the mental health impacts associated with reopening should also be taken very seriously. Why do so many people feel nervous and fearful about returning to in-person interactions?

According to experts at the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), the human body is a complex system that runs without our direct guidance. One part of this system is the fight or flight response, which is the body’s natural alarm system to protect itself from possible danger. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have been taught to be afraid of the inherent dangers of the virus and to protect ourselves by wearing masks and physical distancing, sanitizing our hands, avoiding crowds and even working from home.

As we transition into a post-COVID existence, the messages we have given our bodies about the dangers that exist in the world do not simply disappear. It takes time for our bodies to stop reacting to previously dangerous situations and learn to become unafraid.

To help overcome anxiety, remember to keep up-to-date on the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as to allow yourself time to take things slowly. Also, keep in mind that others may feel differently about wearing masks, and continue to do what personally makes you feel most comfortable. Over time, as the situation improves and COVID cases decline, a greater number of people will experience reduced anxiety.

Here are some tips for a gradual re-entry into a post-COVID world, courtesy of ADAA:

  1. Make a list of activities that you would like, or need, to start doing again. Rank them by level of stress or anxiety and start with the activity that is lowest on the list.
  2. Break down more anxiety-provoking activities into smaller steps. For example, if you have not eaten in a restaurant in a while, grab takeout and start by eating in a public place. Then get a drink outdoors somewhere, before working up to eating a full meal outside.
  3. When you are planning an activity that you have not done in a while, notice your thinking. Are you planning for the worst-case scenario? Are you telling yourself it will be scary and hard? Our thinking has a huge impact on our experience. Focus on the present and try not to engage with worry thoughts. Thoughts are not facts!
  4. Acknowledge the uncertainty that still exists in the world. Nothing is certain! If your brain tries to give you a “what if” question (i.e., What if this isn’t safe?) you can answer yourself with: Maybe yes, maybe no! I am willing to be uncertain about this.
  5. Make sure to reward brave behaviors! If you are feeling anxious about going back into the office, make a plan to talk with a colleague you have missed or get a coffee mid-day as a reward for facing your discomfort.
  6. Seek support from friends and family. About half of Americans are apprehensive about returning to in-person interactions after the pandemic, according to a report from the American Psychological Association, which means that there is a strong chance the person you talk with may be able to validate and relate to your experience. Facing fears with a supportive person may reduce the level of anxiety associated with the situation.

Seek support from a mental health professional. If you need help finding a therapist to speak with, you can search through the ADAA’s therapist directory here.


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