It’s safe to say we’ve all been through our fair share of sadness, loneliness, fear, anxiety and even depression over the last year and a half that the pandemic has been raging on in our lives. It’s been hard and challenging, to say the least, to even do simple, everyday things we once took for granted, from going to the grocery store to spending time with friends and family.
“Not only have we experienced loss at a scale we still don’t fully understand, but we’re also simultaneously living through attempts on our government, an ever-worsening environmental crisis, and a worldwide social justice uprising in response to the structural inequalities that were highlighted by the pandemic’s effect on marginalized populations,” explains Saba Harouni Lurie, L.M.F.T., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner and founder of Take Root Therapy in Los Angeles. “Right at the heart of all of this, social media worked as a unifier, giving us the ability to stay connected, hopeful, and safe during these times of uncertainty, and also as a destructive force, promoting misinformation and dangerous rhetoric with real world consequences.”
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The good news is that infection rates are finally dropping after yet another surge earlier this fall. What’s more: Booster shots are now becoming increasingly available to several populations. The bad news is that the pandemic has left a profound and detrimental impact on mental health across the board. In fact, the number of U.S. adults who reported symptoms of anxiety or depression skyrocketed from 1 in 10 during the period from January to June 2019, to 4 in 10 by January of 2021, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Such a steep incline over just a year and a half can be directly linked to the pandemic, in addition to suddenly being out of work, stuck at home, unsure of where our next toilet paper roll was going to come from, and the constant fear of contracting a deadly virus,” says Lurie. “If there can be one positive outcome that the pandemic has had on mental health, however, it would be that this experience has only reinforced the importance of mental health care and served as an education for many people who, for the first time, saw how mental health can impact every other aspect of our lives.”
If you’re feeling the mental health effects from the pandemic, you’re far from alone.
Here are some therapist tips for how to take care of yourself as you ease into a post-pandemic life.
Set realistic expectations
Any transition, even ones that are positive in our life, can result in experiencing some anxiety, notes Sharon Greene, LCSW, specializes in treating anxiety and depression for children, adolescents and adults, of Providence Saint John’s Child & Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. “When adjustments are being made to another new normal, it is important to set realistic expectations for yourself as things open up whether it’s seeing more friends and family in person or going back to work in person,” she says. “People should expect that they will need time to adjust and may experience moments of anxiety.”
Go at your own pace
Although some of your friends might be ready to dive into post-pandemic life by going to crowded events like concerts and sports games, it’s OK if you’re not quite there yet. In fact, it’s important to feel secure in accepting and announcing what you are and are not comfortable with. Kaitlin Soule, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of A Little Less of a Hot Mess: The Modern Mom’s Guide to Growth & Evolution, recommends reserving your well-being by working on only saying “yes” to the things that feel in line to your values as opposed to doing what you think you “should” do to appease others.
“Give yourself some grace as you ease back into doing things and remember that it’s okay if it feels a bit foreign at first because, after all, it is,” she says. “So much has changed both in your own life and in the world, so be kind to yourself and others.”
While it’s a bit trickier of a concept when it comes to work, it’s still important to cue into your comfort zone. “If your office requires you to return to the office, practice waking up at that time and getting ready for work, as many of us have been rolling out of bed and sitting in sweatpants for the past year,” says Michele Miller, LCSW with Manhattan Wellness in New York City. “Remember that we’re all just trying to navigate this post-pandemic life at varying degrees.”
Ask for help
You are far from alone in your feelings of overwhelm, especially as the pandemic comes to a hopeful close. For this reason, Soule recommends being upfront in your pleas for help in your post-pandemic life. “Seek your support and let go of the notion that you have to do it all and be it all on your own,” she says. “If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, I hope it’s how important community and connection is to our mental and emotional health, so work on rebuilding a stronger community however you can.”
Be mindful of your media consumption
We live in a media-saturated world that is nearly impossible to ignore—even if you don’t watch TV or scroll through your feed all that often. This information that we consume through social media, the news and the people we surround us influence how we think and, often, the actions we take, notes Soule. “Be mindful of who you are around, the information you consume, and always invite yourself to come back to this question, ‘Is this serving me in my efforts to keep myself, my family, or my loved ones healthy and well?’” she says.
Create a schedule and stick to it
Since the dawn of time, humans have thrived off of structure and routine—and we still do today. For this reason, Alexandria Cooper, life coach and owner of Own Confidently, recommends planning your days out so you can anticipate what’s in front of you. “Having a schedule can help anyone ease back into the ‘structure’ of life,” she says.
As part of this post-pandemic life schedule, she suggests waking up early. “Waking up earlier will help you to be more productive, and give you more time to do things like get ready, workout, prepare lunch for yourself, etc.,” she says. “It gives you much more time so you won’t be rushing through your day.”
Take some time to reflect
Before jumping right into the “how things used to be” in your post-pandemic life, Eliza Davis, LMSW, with Manhattan Wellness in New York City, suggests taking the time to reflect on what the pandemic has been like for you and what you’ve missed most about your pre-pandemic life. “So much has gone on in the past year and half and changes and it’s okay to want to leave some behaviors, routines in the past and move on from them with post-pandemic life,” she says. “Before saying ‘yes’ or wanting to reach out to friends to make plans, recognize your own needs too.”
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