Excited about a return to normalcy? Anxious to step into a post-pandemic version of normal? While some activities may seem normal, other aspects of life will be different. Regardless of what you're feeling, check out these tips for returning to a new normal after a long hiatus.
According to the American Psychological Association, 47% of adults say their stress levels increased since the pandemic began. Additionally, nearly half of Americans noted discomfort in resuming in-person activities after the pandemic, regardless of vaccination status.
Whether you plan to return to an office building, send your kids back to school, or meet up with friends and family, returning to pre-pandemic activities might require a bit of preparation.
As we begin returning to a sense of normalcy, we must consider mental health support alongside our physical wellbeing. Use this guide as a starting point to consider your mental health when returning to pre-pandemic activities.
Interested in guiding students in their return to school? Learn more about counseling degrees geared towards supporting others. Consider the information in this guide for yourself and as ways to help others.
Guidance for Returning to Normal
Returning to pre-pandemic normalcy may never occur, so creating a plan for a new normal may prove necessary. Check out the guidance below as you consider what a return to daily activities might look like for you.
Continue to Follow Public Health Protocol
Plan your return to normal activities with guidance from public health protocols. Some regulations may remain, like wearing masks on airplanes or in high-transmission areas, while others can continue by choice.
Whether you're returning to work in an office building, venturing out to the grocery store, or gathering with friends at home, your physical and mental health relies on following safety measures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health organizations provide guidance for safely returning to activities you did before the pandemic. CDC guidance recommends getting vaccinated before resuming activities without wearing a mask or physical distancing.
Wearing a mask may ease your anxieties, even when not required. In addition to following specific public health regulations, consider what additional precautions may increase your comfort as you begin your return to normal activities.
Acknowledge How the Pandemic Impacted Mental Health
The pandemic brought new mental health challenges to many and increased present conditions for others. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, adults reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression increased by 30% between January 2019 and January 2021.
Anxiety and fear can protect us from dangerous situations, telling our brains and bodies to stay away from potentially harmful actions. These emotions can also push people away from everyday activities by increasing worry and doubt.
As we acknowledge the role anxiety and fear play, we must also take small steps towards successfully returning to some of our pre-pandemic activities. When fears arise, remember that full vaccination removes a significant amount of risk for contracting COVID-19. It also opens up safe possibilities for returning to normal tasks.
After the downtime that lockdown provided, you may feel eager to socialize and return to safe activities. Whether excited or worried, your mental health can benefit from self-reflection and planning your reentry.
Set Your Own Boundaries After Covid
Some of us lost loved ones, jobs, homes, and much more than we imagined possible throughout the pandemic. We each process these traumas differently. As we begin to return to a new normal, our different needs require individualized attention.
Set boundaries for your reentry. The transition may be easier if you gradually introduce pre-pandemic activities in your schedule. Think about the tasks that previously drained you and whether you need to return to them. Consider which ones improved your energy, relieved stress, and brought you joy during the pandemic.
Which of the following activities might be part of your return to normalcy plans?
- Online shopping
- Grocery delivery services
- Virtual tours (museums, rental properties, geographic locations, etc.)
- Outdoor activities (hiking, scooter rides, drive-in movies, etc.)
- Virtual or at-home fitness classes (solo or group exercise experiences)
Define your new normal by setting boundaries, moving slowly, and making a reentry plan. And if you find that you need more support, consider additional ways to get help as described further down this page.
Lockdown occurred more quickly than most of us imagined. Now, on the other side of things, we can make changes gradually. Take your time reintroducing yourself to pre-pandemic activities.
Remember that your comfort level may be different from those around you. Start with one activity at a time, building your comfort slowly. This slow reintroduction helps manage your stress as well.
Consider the following ways to reintroduce post-pandemic activities into your life:
- Spend time in a coffee shop with open windows or patio space. Start solo for short periods before lengthening your time or inviting friends to join you.
- Invite a vaccinated friend to your house for a 15-minute hangout. Increase your hangout time or include more friends as you progress.
- Gather with friends or family on a restaurant patio. Begin with a small group and keep the visit short.
- Join an outdoor exercise class. Choose a comfortable location where you can enjoy physical activity in the fresh air.
Make a Plan
Expect that things will feel differently than they did before the pandemic. Journal, make a list, meditate, or talk to a trusted friend about your feelings for returning to normalcy. Then think about who you might begin your reentry process with and plan your first outings.
Some may not be up for in-person visits yet. Talk to the people you want to spend time with and share limits, concerns, and needs with one another. Make a plan for the amount of time to spend together. Decide the best way to end the hangout when you feel ready, even if it's earlier than initially planned.
Arrange another outing not long after the first. Try activities that limit or reduce your anxiety. Your plan should also include downtime for reflection and ways to restore your energy.
Recognize When You May Need Help Getting Back to Normal
Maintaining a level of self care as you get back to normal activities can provide stability and space to refresh. Consider ways to restore your energy, relax, and connect with others. Seeking help may support you in the reintegration process.
Telemedicine services, or virtual healthcare, provide services and guidance for anxiety, depression, plus other mental and physical health needs. Doctors and mental health professionals can provide the support needed for life transitions.
Explore the links below for resources that may help you work through mental health difficulties on your own. Seek support from a medical professional before making significant lifestyle changes.
Discover more mental health tips.
Natural Ways to Improve Your Mental Health
Best Meditation and Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Stress
Top 10 Podcasts Exploring Mental Health
30 Best Self-Improvement Books for Those With Depression
10 Great Tips for Dealing With Depression in College
3 Mental Health Tips for Women Over 40
Frequently Asked Questions
When is everything going back to normal?
Normal lifestyles before the pandemic may not fully return. Creating new normals is vital to living fully and returning to society.
Is the coronavirus pandemic affecting our mental health?
Significant life events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, affect our mental health in big and small ways. Researchers and scientists continue to study the full effects of the pandemic on our mental health.
What is considered a mental health crisis?
A mental health crisis puts a person at risk of harming themselves or others, often resulting in an inability to provide care for themselves. Mental health crises can stem from mental illness, stress, substance abuse, or other health factors.
What are the long-term effects of Covid?
Some long-term effects of COVID-19 may include shortness of breath, weakness, exhaustion, organ or autoimmune conditions, or mental health issues. Effects vary based on each person's experience with COVID-19 and any underlying medical conditions.
Rayelle Davis, M.Ed., LCPC, NCC
Rayelle Davis is a nationally board certified counselor and a licensed clinical professional counselor. As a nontraditional student, she earned her associate degree in psychology at Allegany College of Maryland. She went on to earn her bachelor's degree in psychology online at the University of Maryland Global Campus. Rayelle earned her master's degree in counseling education with a concentration in marriage, couples, and family therapy from Duquesne University. She has taught several undergraduate psychology courses. She is currently a doctoral student and teaching assistant at Duquesne University and practices psychotherapy in Maryland. Rayelle is a paid member of Red Ventures Education's freelance review network.
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