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How To Ease Back Into Life After The Stress Of COVID-19

Just a week ago, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported that more than 90% of the United States population lives in an area with a low or medium level of COVID-19 cases. Schools across the country have been easing mask restrictions; mask guidance has also been dropped from public indoor settings (excluding healthcare facilities). With this latest dip in COVID-19 cases, it seems that the country is returning to normalcy. And while that’s exciting for some people, for others, the return to “normal” is fear-inducing.

“We’ve spent the last two years of our lives in a pandemic, and we don’t fully understand how it has impacted us yet,” says Deborah Bienstock, MSW, a behavioral health specialist at Henry Ford Health. “We’ve had this cumulative stress and anxiety for so long, and it affects people differently. While some haven’t been able to wait to rip their masks off, others are having trouble ‘snapping’ back into life as it was before the pandemic.”

While these pandemic years have been difficult and scary, here are a few things to keep in mind that might ease your fears:

  • We now have vaccines. When the pandemic began, there weren’t vaccines to protect us from the virus—which was why we had stay-at-home orders. But now, being up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccinations can make you feel protected (especially if you are otherwise healthy) as those who are vaccinated are less likely to contract and get seriously ill from COVID-19.  
  • We know much more about COVID-19 now than we did in the beginning. When the pandemic began, doctors knew little about how the virus spread, how to treat it, how it behaved and its symptoms. Now, two years into the pandemic, we have much more research and data that helps us to know what to expect, how to protect ourselves and what treatment methods can be used.        
  • Right now, the data tells us that cases are low. The CDC has eased mask guidance for most of the country, and their decision came from a place of research and data. “I think what’s scary is that information can change quickly,” says Bienstock. “You hear one thing and then it may change a few months later.” We don’t know what will happen in the future, but we do know that right now, pandemic recommendations are based off of credible information.

That said, everyone has to go at their own pace. Even if you are vaccinated, and just because cases are low, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel comfortable letting your guard down. Here are some tips to easing your way back in:

  • Start small. If you’ve been reticent to go out in public, you don’t have to start off by going to a crowded venue. “Try dining at a restaurant during off hours, at a time when it won’t be that busy,” says Bienstock.   
  • Continue wearing masks in public places. It doesn’t matter if other people aren’t wearing masks, if it is something you want to do, wear a mask. “Don’t feel pressured to follow the crowd,” says Bienstock. “Make decisions based upon what will make you feel safe.”  
  • Focus on the present moment. If COVID-19 worries are eating at you, shift your thoughts to what you can control and think about the moment you’re in. “Tell yourself: ‘right now, the risk is low and cases are down. I’m making a decision based upon the information I have in this moment. I’m keeping up with the CDC guidelines,’” says Bienstock. “We have to think about what we can control and try not to go down the path of ‘what ifs,’ because there is always a ‘what if.’” Incorporating mindfulness tactics into your daily life (meditating, doing breathing exercises, engaging in a relaxing activity like doing a puzzle or knitting) can help refocus your mind into the present.

“Everyone has a different comfort level and some are more vulnerable than others,” says Bienstock. “We’re all going to respond to this differently, and the best thing we can do is be patient and understanding with each other. And if this is something you need help with, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional.”