It's normal to feel overwhelmed about post-pandemic life

Things are finally starting to get back to normal. Mask and social distancing mandates are being lifted for those who have received their COVID-19 vaccinations. In Michigan, on June 1, all outdoor capacity limits, as well as the 11 p.m. curfew on restaurants, will be lifted. And musicians are expected to finally resume tours in late July/early August (woo-hoo!!)

This is great news! My life is starting to feel somewhat normal. This month, I celebrated my birthday, and I went out to a bar with my close friends. I attended a family wedding — and actually danced on a dance floor. And, best of all, I got to hug my parents for the first time in more than a year.  

But, the weird thing is, despite all this good news, in the last week, my mental health completely took a nose dive. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, I struggled to feel motivated at work, I felt a constant looming sense of dread, and, overall, I just felt lethargic. 

Since March 2020, we've had to adjust to more changes than most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Now, after getting used to the new normal of staying at home and not socializing, we're changing again. And change is stressful. Even though many of the changes seem like good ones, mentally, we may be feeling similar to how we felt at the beginning of the pandemic. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 40% of Americans reported that they struggled with their mental health or substance use. Now, after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, it's not like we can just tell our brains, "Okay, everything's better now! There's nothing to fear! Go back to the way you were in 2019 before all of this happened!"

As Annie Miller, LCSW-C, of D.C. Metro Sleep and Psychotherapy, told Medium, "For an entire year, our brains have operated in fight-or-flight mode. ... We’ve been programmed to sense being around people as a threat, and it’s only normal to be fearful of returning to that scenario."

You may also dread going back to your hectic pre-pandemic life of being stuck in traffic, always being on the go, and having to change out of your sweatpants and put on a bra. For me, the COVID-19 pandemic gave me time to self-reflect and learn to enjoy my own company. It also made me a little more socially awkward because, well, I'm out of practice! So while I used to be a pro at being busy and having weekends that were packed full, now, I quickly become mentally exhausted. 

“There are a number of folks who are really struggling to reacclimate to what it means to go back to some level of normalcy,” Angela Doe, chief behavioral health officer for Whitney Young Health told the Times Union

“I think most importantly we have to know that the way we’re feeling as a result of these unprecedented and challenging times is completely appropriate and that the concern and the impact of being isolated is something that many others are also experiencing.”

Also, post-pandemic, experts anticipate that there will be a significant rise in PTSD cases among frontline healthcare workers, those who battled COVID-19, and those who lost a loved one to the deadly virus. 

“When individuals experience environments that are out of the ordinary, that are hard to control, when they experience tragedy and death similar to the experiences that veterans have during war there could be a possibility of some delayed reactions. ... It could be demonstrated by anxiety or depression or nightmares. It’s all individual," Dr. Dolores Cimini, director of the University at Albany’s Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research, told the Times Union.

So what can we do to adjust to post-pandemic life? 

First, be easy on yourself. We've all been through a lot, and it's going to take time to adjust. Slowly begin to reacclimate yourself, even if it's just asking a friend you haven't seen in a while out for a quick coffee or drink. 

But you also don't need to jump right back into your life. You may feel like, "Ugh, COVID-19 was the perfect excuse to say, 'No,' to people. How do I say 'No' to people now that I've gotten my vaccine?" But your mental health is still a perfectly reasonable excuse to say "No." A lot of people aren't ready yet. So if you're not ready and you need more time, there's no shame in telling people that. And, if you ask someone to hang out or invite them to a party, please be sensitive and support them if they do say, "I'm sorry, but I can't." 

If you are feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed, reach out for professional help. A good place to start is to seek advice from your primary care physician, who can treat mental health issues or refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist for additional help. 

For Michigan residents, you can also find resources by calling/texting Common Ground's 24/7 crisis line at 800-231-1127. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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