While most of us are eager to put the pandemic behind us and return to “normal,” we know that the world we are reentering in 2021 looks very different than the one that turned upside down – taking our lives with it – in 2020. It’s important to remain optimistic while also being realistic about what we can expect as we venture back into a changed world, as changed people.
Our Collective New Normal
The full effects of the pandemic on our mental health won’t be known for some time. To try to sum up the range of emotions that the average person went through this past year wouldn’t do it justice. It’s hard to comprehend what we’ve had to endure, even for those who have had it good by comparison.
What we know is stress has never been experienced at the levels we’ve seen in the past year. Many people went through loneliness, isolation, depression and anxiety for the first time in their lives. Women were hit hardest, with many fulfilling career obligations, in addition to disproportionate household work and childcare responsibilities.
It will take a while for the fog to lift, so people need to be patient with each other and with themselves, as many will still be mentally recovering from the year that was.
Where many of us will rejoice at the return to our routines, it has been a long journey of exercising caution and limiting contact to our immediate families to minimize the spread. As parents whose job it’s been to keep their families safe, the emptying of the nest will be a huge adjustment and take some getting used to. After all, we’ve spent over a year in our COVID “pods.”
Symptoms of anxiety have been made worse in the last year by lack of exposure to anything but our bubbles. With people who were already anxious while isolating themselves for over a year, leaving the house and familiar surroundings can be quite difficult.
A study from the American Psychological Association showed about half of adults are feeling uncomfortable returning to in-person interactions once the pandemic ends. If your anxiety feels overwhelming or is debilitating, seek professional help from your doctor or a counselor, many of whom offer telemed services, if you feel more comfortable at home.
With COVID-19 variants that have made the younger population more susceptible to contracting the virus than the initial strands, combined with the much slower vaccination process for children, there will be more risk for kids who are going back to school than many parents will feel comfortable with.
Emotionally, kids have missed more than a year’s worth of birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, sports and recreational activities, and extracurricular activities. This window of time is a substantial portion of young children’s lives, and it’s hard to know the emotional toll it will have taken. Anxiety and depression are not limited to adults. If your child or teenager seems overly fearful, nervous or reticent about returning to school, talk to their doctor about how to ease their concerns.
Mothers, who have taken on the disproportionate share of childcare duties and have been the protectors of their children’s safety, will have the added stress of their kids being put in harm’s way, both physically and emotionally, once again. Take care of your mental health and well-being first, so you can help guide your family through any emotional difficulties they may be experiencing.
Re-integrating into Society
With more than a year’s worth of physical isolation that has restricted social visits to virtual hangouts or outdoor and distanced visits, it’s likely that many people will have developed some sort of quarantine-induced social anxiety.
Whether you’ve struggled for a while with social worries or find yourself feeling more awkward than usual around people during the pandemic, worrying excessively actually can shrink your life and develop into social anxiety disorders. It may take time to reintegrate. Move at your own pace and don’t feel pressured to keep up with anyone else.
Stats suggest that women have left jobs at a clip up to ten times higher than men during the pandemic, so a return to a social environment in any capacity will likely be a shock to our systems that will take time to adjust to.
Envisioning the Future
Not all things brought on by COVID
-19 were negative. People were able to slow the pace of their lives and give attention to things that were previously put off. Forcibly, it brought all of us more time and restored some balance from the pace of life we lived before. While many of us are yearning for a return to old routines, we also have been presented with the opportunity to re-evaluate what routines work and which ones no longer do.
The new normal thrust us into a digital transformation that took some time to adapt to. However, after the initial period of adjustment, many people have found it has helped restore balance to their lives and provided additional time to enjoy things we previously were unable to, which can be a tremendous boost to our mental health.
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Rooted in neuroscience, psychiatry, and performance psychology, headversity delivers vital resilience skill training to help your people think, feel and be better, rain or shine. headversity was born in Alberta, Canada, in 2018. Its platform is deployed across 15 industries and 150 organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada, positively impacting over 500,000 lives worldwide. For more, see www.headversity.com.
May is mental health awareness month in the U.S. For information and resources, go to