By Judith and Steve Katzman
It’s being called Post-COVID Stress Disorder and mental health professionals are only beginning to see symptoms ranging from traumatic to less severe. Those who suffered from COVID-19 or lost loved ones, those who treated patients and witnessed intense suffering on a daily basis, those who were essential workers and put themselves at risk – those people knew COVID-19 and exposure as a part of their daily life for more than a year.
Everyone else’s daily life, while perhaps one step removed from direct exposure risk, also has potential for serious stress. News reports brought the suffering into our lives in ways too vivid to ignore. The emotional burdens, such as social isolation, job uncertainty, economic losses, and working from home while caring for children and other family members placed unforeseen burdens on us all. The stress many of us carried about the well-being of vulnerable family members far away hovered in the background.
Introverts joked about having been in training for social isolation all their lives. But that group is reporting the greatest increase in depression and anxiety. We all need interactions (granted, to differing degrees) and the laughter and collaboration that come with socializing. It will be years before the total impact of COVID-19 will be clear.
Since the first of the year the arrival of vaccines helped us to relax but brought other levels of concern. Do we still need masks? Can we safely be with unvaccinated people? What about children? Restaurants? Airplanes? Is this thing over or are we in the middle? What about variants?
Things that may help in the meantime:
- Pace your return to the world slowly. People are saying that socializing feels more tiring than it used to, like exercising an unused muscle.
- Make a list of things you’d love to do. Just writing them down can create a sense of hope and optimism.
- Acknowledge all the emotions you’re feeling. Anger, sadness, and fear that were not present before the pandemic may need to be explored in light of COVID-19.
Recognize the parts of the past year that were good for you. Maybe you took more walks, spent more time in your head, or cooked with a partner. If you have to return to the office, that doesn’t mean you can’t hold on to those things. In acknowledging their value, you can become motivated to find space for them.
In our neighborhood, take advantage of the naturally occurring opportunities to interact with others. These moments support our health.
Stay mindful. Notice when you are being swept up by others’ needs to return to the “before times.” If we keep what we value in the forefront, we can make choices that create a more intentional life. This has always been true.