This article discusses tactics to approaching life post-pandemic, and how we can all cope with the big changes life throws our way. Please continue to follow CDC regulations, wear masks, and social distance. Remember: short-term caution, long-term optimism. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
What will it be like to see people again? The CDC has recently announced that vaccinated people are now able to visit each other, indoors, and without masks. The day many of us have been waiting for is finally approaching, and with that excitement and relief can also come a sense of unease. After months of isolation, we are peeking out our windows, much like the munchkins of Oz, checking to see if the Wicked Witch really is gone.
A reasonable person might ask: if we’ve been waiting for something to happen for so long, why are we so anxious when it does? The answer is that this year of living differently has created new patterns for our lives. You’ve probably heard that it only takes 30 days, or doing something 16 times, to create a new habit. Imagine then how a whole year of doing things differently has changed the many patterns of our lives.
Changes in patterns are disruptive even when we understand the reason behind the change. The recent pandemic has touched the world to a degree that we haven’t seen in many generations. Nonetheless, this world event was (and still is for many) a traumatic experience. Most of us can clearly remember the day the first set of Shelter in Place orders were issued. We thought it would only last a couple of weeks, then hoped it would end after three months, by the end of summer, or by Thanksgiving… Babies have been born, people have died, wedding dates have changed, jobs have been lost and holidays were different.
With overwhelming anxiety, a very natural, human response is tentativeness. Having spent so much time on uncertain ground, it might make us nervous to take on other life changes. So how do we approach these changes?
Here are some pointers for a path forward, and some steps you can take.
First, consider an acceptance of self. You might be ready to put on your party shoes and run to your friends. It’s okay to feel like you can’t wait another minute to see the people who have been missing from your life for so long. Embrace that feeling of gratitude. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s also okay to be hesitant, and to take your time moving forward. You can accept that this was unnerving, and that the thought of walking into crowds and talking to strangers is frightening or anxiety provoking. Everyone will have a different perception of what going back into the world means, so everyone will have different feelings. Accept your natural response to the news and know we will all respond differently.
Next, understand that there is no universal protocol for how to get back into the world, and that’s okay. It just is. What’s critical is making progress forward. If you’re worried about having a conversation with someone, then that’s exactly the thing you need to do. Habitual tendencies can become obstacles, and the more you avoid doing something, the more difficult it will become.
Some of us will be nervous taking off our masks, and others will want to do it as soon as we can. When the time comes, do it. This step on our path forward is pushing ourselves to do the things that scare us one day at a time. If you feel nervous, examine the evidence, and proceed with caution rather than avoiding it.
We might have anxiety over social norms, like how to talk to a stranger, or what your face looks like without a mask. When you think about it masks have enabled us to secretly let loose our goofy side: like singing in the grocery store, or making funny faces with our tongues hanging out of our mouths. It’s important to have confidence in yourself that you’ll remember how to act around people very quickly. We have spent our lives learning certain patterns of behavior that can’t be lost in a year. Don’t worry. You know how to be a social person, because you are one.
Finally connect with others over shared experiences. Make jokes about our new bedtimes, quirky hobbies, and fashion choices. Talk about what makes you nervous and the possible losses you’ve had. We are going through a shared human experience, and talking to people about it can bring us all comfort.
The idea of a new normal, one we don’t yet see clearly, can be nerve-racking. It can also be exciting. The point of this message is just as we adapted to life during a pandemic, we will adapt to the new way of living that follows. So when it’s time to come back out into the world, and the Wicked Witch of COVID-19 is gone, take advantage, and embrace the new patterns of your life. You’ll be in good company — with all of us.