Emotional challenges as we transition out of the pandemic

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

The world is starting to open up again, people are reconnecting and we are inching closer to a feeling that resembles normal. Despite this guarded optimism, I have been seeing many adults and kids struggle emotionally…so, perhaps you recognize these feelings in yourself, or a family member as you read on.

For months now we have had to adjust to a ‘new normal’, and while it has been very difficult, many of us have learned how to cope and get by. But, we have all been counting down the days until it is over! That being said, many people have now started telling me that they are confused about their feelings about the world reopening because they don’t feel completely happy about it. Some people have told me they feel guilty that they aren’t fully happy about reopening, because they know it has been such a tough year. So, let’s explore all these feelings and understand why they are perfectly normal!

Becoming comfortable with the isolation, even though it isn’t always pleasant, is a top reason that it is hard to now break out into being social and going back fully to school/work. Human beings take comfort in routine and structure, and since we have all become accustomed to a very simplified routine (no plans, no socializing), it is understandable that going back to the juggling, busy life of the past will be difficult and stressful. It is important to ease in slowly, rather than trying to ramp up all at once. Adults and kids need time to adjust to a busier life, and gradually adding in more activity will make the change back less stressful. Give yourself a break if you’re not yet ready for the pressure and hustle. Teens, in particular, have told me how much they have benefitted from a simpler life — they feel much less pressure to juggle school/activities/friends, so as life ramps up, over the next year, keep an eye on your teen to make sure they are doing okay emotionally. If you see signs of severe stress, depression or significant anxiety, seek professional help.

Many people are feeling stress as the world opens up because they are worried about feeling physically safe. Even if one’s brain logically knows that the vaccine is protective and that it is okay to start venturing out, we are all, to some degree, facing a psychological trauma related to over a year of feeling physically unsafe. These feelings are normal, and, for some people it could take many months (or even longer) to feel less anxious and more secure emotionally. It is important to get back to one’s life a little at a time, continuing to take necessary precautions, but not to avoid living. Your brain will need to get used to feeling safe again, taking small steps will give it the chance to begin doing so.

Both adults and kids/teens have expressed to me that it has been difficult to keep close bonds with friends during the pandemic. Some people are worried that, as life returns to normal, their friendships have suffered irreparable harm because contact has been so limited. \While it is possible that some friendships won’t be as strong as they had been, many will bounce back once people are able to spend more time together. This transitional period is a good time to start making an effort to start reaching out to people, to rekindle friendships, make playdates for kids. Once you get back into the routine with friends, the feeling of connection will take over and the worry will diminish quickly. Take the first steps.

Another great concern that I have been frequently hearing is related to time. Of course there are downsides to having school/work virtually, but for a great many people, it has given them more time to sleep, be with family, and have time for hobbies and exercise. As life shifts away from virtual, many people are anticipating feeling great loss in these ways. This is one of the most profound issues that I am hearing, and it needs to be acknowledged and understood as a real loss, despite the fact that ‘going back to normal’ is for the greater good. If you are feeling sad about losing what you have gained during the pandemic, it doesn’t make you a bad person, and it doesn’t mean that you are wishing the pandemic would continue — you don’t have to feel guilty or ashamed of these feelings. The emotional conflict is understandable and these losses will make it difficult to adjust back, despite the understanding of all the good that it will bring.

I hope that this helps your adjustment out of virtual life over the next few months!