As COVID restrictions begin to lift, you may be feeling more anxiety. Your expectations, boundaries, and comfortability may have shifted throughout the pandemic or it could have stayed the same. If you identify as an introvert, the pandemic could have made it harder to discern whether you have been isolating or honoring your introversion. As an extrovert, you may feel like you can’t wait to socialize in a safe way again.
No matter what, there is an adjustment period when lifestyles change. This pandemic has impacted our mental health leading to more anxiety disorders, social anxiety, stress, depression and fear of safety.
You may feel more anxiety as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifts regulations. This is normal, and you are not alone. There might be an awkward period, mistakes will probably be made, and you may not do this perfectly. Shifting to the latest version of your life doesn’t have to be impossible.
Whether you have received your vaccination or not, reflecting on what is comfortable for you and those around you can help you prepare for the COVID restrictions lifting.
Here are five tips to consider as you continue to transition.
1. Set Boundaries.
You can’t control what happens around you, but you can control your reaction to it. Things will continue to change. New guidelines, restrictions, and lessened regulations will be in progress for the foreseeable future. Even though you are powerless over these outcomes, you are not helpless.
You still get to decide your comfort level.
If you are not comfortable going places with large crowds, do not plan this outing. You can say no to invitations. Your comfort and safety are more important than a yes. Discomfort lasts a moment, but resentments can be long-term. Saying yes when you’re not comfortable can lead to resentments and can increase your anxiety overall. You get to decide who and how you spend time as you adjust.
If you are looking forward to interacting with others have conversations with your friends, co-workers and family about your and their comfort level with wearing masks or meeting inside vs outside. Showing respect for your and others’ comfort level can help make this transition easier for all of us.
If you feel your discomfort being around others is tied to social anxiety, or a more serious anxiety disorder, reaching out for help from a mental health professional can be helpful throughout these changes.
2. Put One Low-Pressure Activity on your Calendar a Week.
Anxiety leads to overwhelm, which can turn into a flight, fight, or freeze response. Even though it is constant, change is still difficult. By packing your schedule full, it can feel like taking a drink of water from a fire hydrant.
Take one step at a time.
If you feel comfortable planning an activity with a few friends, put it on your calendar. If you want to safely experience self-care, schedule a massage. You can build your tolerance for being in the world again. The trick is to make it gradual so that you can shift if you don’t like the way something feels. You don’t have to do more than what you are comfortable doing.
It’s important to make the activity a low-pressure one so that you feel flexibility and can keep the promise to yourself. If you start flaking, you know you are not ready for the activity yet. If you feel constricted, safely plan more than one activity. You get to judge this for yourself.
If your anxiety is getting in the way of planning a low-pressure activity, reach out to a friend or loved one you feel comfortable with. Talk through ways of taking small steps for your self. They may have some helpful ideas, knowing you. Or, they might be happy to be a partner in taking a first step.
3. Get Fresh Air.
The weather is beginning to feel like spring again in some parts of the world. There is no better time to enjoy being outdoors. You can enjoy the brilliant colors, walk in the grass barefoot, smell the blooming flowers, and hear the birds chirping. You can take a walk by yourself or with a friend but connecting with nature can help to relieve anxiety. Solo outdoor excursions are a safe option to gently build comfort again. You may feel stuck in your routine, and that is okay. You still have options to help yourself.
A full list of Denver parks and recreation areas is available through their website https://www.denvergov.org/Government/Departments/Parks-Recreation
4. Be Gentle with Yourself.
You have survived a pandemic. There is grief, pain, trauma, and anxiety. The last thing you need to do is berate yourself for how you have handled your circumstances. If you are able, replace negative self-talk with kind words.
Negative Self-Talk: “I can’t believe you are afraid to go out into the world again.”
Positive Self-Talk: “I am so proud of you for trying your best. I know it is scary, so let’s start small.”
Negative Self-Talk: “Wow – You gained so much weight during the pandemic. How gross!”
Positive Self-Talk: “I know it wasn’t easy to endure the last year and a half. It’s okay that your body looks different. Your worth is not in your weight. You may not look familiar to yourself now, but I love you the same.”
Negative Self-Talk: “No one has reached out to me, so they must not care.”
Positive Self-Talk: “I know this has impacted everyone differently, and they are doing the best they can with the capacity they have right now. What can I do for myself?”
Negative Self-Talk: “I am all alone.”
Positive Self-Talk: “I feel alone right now, but I have options to connect again. Feelings aren’t facts, so I know this won’t last forever.”
5. Practice Meditation.
This can look different for everyone. You don’t have to stop all your thinking for hours a day to meditate successfully. Taking a few moments to connect back to yourself is meditation. You can close your eyes, take a few breaths, and use your 5 senses to come back to the present moment. With each breath you take in, notice what you see, hear (both near and further away), smell, feel (temperature and textures), and taste.
There are options for guided meditations through apps like Calm, Headspace, and Simple Habit. If you want to take the next step with your meditation, you can sign up for a sound bath. A local favorite is Tri Resonance in Lone Tree, CO. No matter what, staying in the present moment through meditation can help relieve anxiety.
As you navigate this new territory, it is important to remember you are not alone. If you find that your anxiety is difficult to manage and you are feeling overwhelmed with how to navigate your comfort and boundaries with others, therapy can help. Therapy can provide you with the validation, support and tools to help you manage anxiety you may experience as restrictions lift and pressure to return to “normal” continues.
You have the control to take care of yourself and be gentle as you adjust. You will make a mistake, experience hardship, and get overwhelmed. This is part of change. Set your boundaries so that you can keep promises to yourself and start small. You are worth the effort.
Written by: Randi Thackeray, MA
Clinically Reviewed and Edited by: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACS, ACC
Denver Metro Counseling is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. We provide supportive therapy for people struggling with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, ADHD, and more.