Social distancing may still be keeping many of us apart, and if you’re feeling emotional strain, you’re not alone. Even as some restrictions ease and businesses reopen, life won’t return to normal in one fell swoop, as is echoed in the White House plan for reopening the country.
Similarly, your mental health may take some time to readjust. Many people continue feeling stress, anxiety, grief and worry in the aftermath of a disastrous or traumatic event, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC). And the pandemic may pose even greater challenges, since its effects are ongoing.
While there may be difficult days ahead, it’s important to remember how far we’ve come — and all we’ve gained. Understanding the feelings you’re likely to experience can go a long way in helping you manage them effectively. Here, we explore what to expect and how to cope.
The Nation Reopening Brings Mixed Emotions
Whether you’ve been quarantined, self-isolated or simply staying at home more than usual, it’s common to have mixed emotions when the situation changes. As restrictions are lifted, you might feel a sense of relief, coupled with ongoing fear and anxiety.
Even when the pace of life begins to pick back up again, we may feel nervous about being close to others during social gatherings and travel. It’s normal to have trouble readjusting to old routines and accepting that fact can help ease your mind.
Changing Timelines May Fuel Anxiety
Your strong or overwhelming emotions can be heightened because of the nature of this pandemic. While all disasters impact us, tornadoes or forest fires typically have clear end points. Moving forward, we’re likely to alternate between periods of relative freedom and tightening restrictions in times and places where COVID-19 levels rise again, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
This shifting between greater mobility and staying at home will likely feel stressful. Overall, we don’t like uncertainty, and no plans will be set in stone for the foreseeable future. Any time there is a gap between what we know and what we want to understand, anxiety can rise.
In part, that’s due to the very nature of anxiety. Though we tend to think of anxiety in only negative terms, it actually has a job to do: Anxiety helps protect us from an imminent threat. While that is useful in motivating us to take steps such as washing our hands and staying 6 feet apart from other people, it can backfire when we don’t have control over external circumstances.
Other Pressures Can Add to the Strain
As part of the plan to reopen the country, the CDC is advocating contact tracing, or tracking people who have been in touch with someone who has COVID-19. Sometimes, public health officials will use digital tools to alert contacts so they can safely isolate themselves.
While contact tracing will help control the spread of coronavirus, you might feel anxious or uneasy about sharing your location and personal information through your phone or another method. In these cases, it may help to take some time to reflect on how contact tracing will allow more people to go back to work, school and other aspects of normal life.
How to Check in With Your Mental Health Regularly
As the new normal unfolds, you can be proactive about your mental health by checking in with yourself regularly. Think of it as your own personal checkup for your mental health. Ask yourself whether you have any warning signs of growing distress, such as:
- Avoiding work or other parts of daily life
- Challenges in your relationships
- Changes in appetite
- Fear and worry
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Intrusive memories
- Trouble concentrating
- Unexplained physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches
If these start to appear, it may be time to take action. Start by trying to reduce distress on your own, through methods such as:
- Caring for your physical health, including eating a healthy diet and exercising
- Getting enough rest
- Sharing your worries and concerns with friends and family
- Spending time doing hobbies and activities you enjoy
- Taking preventive measures against COVID-19 like washing your hands, covering your coughs and disinfecting shared surfaces regularly
Additionally, take time to practice compassion for yourself. These are challenging times for anyone to live through, and you don’t have to have it all together right now. Viewing yourself as weak or a failure for continuing to feel anxious is only damaging to your mental health.
Instead, remind yourself that it’s normal to feel anxious during times of uncertainty. You can try letting go of your struggle against these feelings by noticing where you hold them in your body. Do a mental scan, head to toe, and notice where you’re tense or tight and then inhale and exhale slowly as you relax.
It's OK to Get Help When You Need It
Sometimes, soothing yourself or talking with friends and family members can ease your fears and worries. But if you continue to feel distress, or don’t feel you have anyone else to talk to, it’s OK to get support from a mental health professional.
In an emotional crisis, you can get immediate help by calling the Disaster Distress Helpline at Call1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
Or, call the National Suicide Hotline at Call1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
When You Feel Ready, Focus on the Good Things
Making it through to the other side of the pandemic may have some mental health benefits. People often report a sense of increased spirituality or personal growth after a period of quarantine or struggle.
In addition, people who have gone through a shared, difficult experience often pull together mentally and emotionally. And now that we’re all more familiar with using video conferencing and other technology to maintain social ties, we can stay connected even if we have to enter quarantine again or receive new stay-at-home orders.
What’s more, our whole perspective may have shifted to view each day as even more precious than we realized. Reflecting on these types of sentiments can bolster us when we’re feeling down.
We’re Here to Care for Your Whole Health
We’re committed to providing the latest information to keep you and your family healthy. You can find confidential mental health resources, available to anyone at any time, on our our free mental health resources page. Or, learn more about behavioral health care at AdventHealth.