Three Tips To Getting Back to Normal After COVID-19
By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D.
As a global pandemic, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the world. To date, there have been close to 180 million total cases, and the virus has tragically taken the lives of over 3.8 million people.
Regardless of one’s personal experience with COVID-19, for the past 15 months, the world as we have always known it has not been the same place in very upsetting ways — working from home, virtual learning for our children, social distancing, financial hardships, stress and anxiety in response to changes and the unknowns, less quality time to relate, illness or the deaths of loved ones, etc.
While these forced compromises and losses have been difficult to endure, the vaccines are proving to be successful and COVID-19 cases are steeply declining. The long awaited hope and expectation that life will return to normal seems to be approaching fast, but how do we do that with such an extended break and so much continued uncertainty?
Unfortunately, there is not a return to life as normal post COVID-19 playbook, but I hope that these three tips are helpful.
Trust your pace to return. The world appears to be returning to life as normal quickly. Sure, restrictions are being lifted, but we are all experiencing this unfolding process differently. Just like there are some who feel fine shopping in a store without a mask, eating at a restaurant, or attending a large social gathering maskless or traveling abroad now, there are others who do not.
As a psychologist discussing anxiety with my patients, I often say, “If you’re afraid of bridges, what are you supposed to go over?” Bridges.
However, for those who are struggling to make sense of the return to life in a post-pandemic world, I recommend making those bridge moments manageable. Perhaps going for a walk outside without a mask, or dining at an outdoor restaurant with spaced seating is a good start. Incrementally adding social challenges that you can handle is likely the best way to get back to doing more in life again.
Trust your muscle memory. The mind, like the body, is a complex system that relies on learning and repetition in order to thrive. Research has shown that an atrophied muscle will return to top condition faster for those who were previously in great physical shape compared to those who were not.
So, how do we get back into shape by being fully present again? Psychologists term what we have learned (i.e. facts) declarative memory, and what we have experienced (i.e. life events) episodic memory.
While we have not forgotten how to be fully human, we also have not practiced it for a while. The best way to get that episodic memory muscle working hard again, is to lean back into life. By engaging socially with others, by getting outside, by getting back to work, by travelling, you will be doing once again what you have always done, and it will feel right over time.
Focus on the good. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” These past 15 months have been fraught with adversities, and in my opinion, the experience has provided us with a long-drawn-out opportunity to reflect on our lives and redefine things for positive change.
What makes me happy? How do I want to spend my time? Do I have professional life and personal life balance? What matters most to me, and how can I prioritize that better? Several people have told me that the pandemic has taught them to be calmer, more patient, more grateful, less materialistic and more self-less and generous.
Certainly, COVID-19 is not over, however, all signs indicate that it is ending – or at least it is something that we will soon have enough control over to return to life with few or no restrictions. With all that has happened though, I recommend that we be kind to ourselves and others as we return to life fully, and let’s enjoy the re-entry.