While some places are tiptoeing around opening businesses by extending lockdown periods — take Los Angeles county for example who extended stay-at-home orders through July — other states are taking small steps towards reopening their economies.
This new “trial” opening is generally referred to as “safer-at-home,” which means curbside services are available, face masks are optional in outdoor recreational areas such as parks, and some non-essential businesses — such as retail — can open with limited numbers of workers. On top of that, some states are allowing social gatherings of 10 people and under. With that said, safer-at-home orders also mean people still need to follow the 6-foot social distancing rules, as well as wearing masks in indoor public spaces.
Even though this doesn’t mean the pandemic is over or that we’re safe from contracting or transmitting the virus, it does mean that some of us may be able to enjoy one or two things from our old lifestyles.
Sounds great right? Maybe for some.
But it’s also possible that many of us are also feeling something unexpected… anxiety.
As we’ve all been hunkered down, isolated, and dealing with the trauma of drastic, forced change for two or more months, reentering the world — even with these small steps — poses a whole new slew of psychological pitfalls.
And it’s okay to feel hesitant, anxious, stressed, or even scarred about returning to even a smidgen of normal life!
Let’s take a closer look at what the heck is going on in our heads and how to handle this new transition!
The Unforeseen Mental Hurdles of Reopening
Maybe you’ve been waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, but many people have simply been waiting for the reopening of the economy.
Yet, now that it’s partially here, many people are reporting an increase in their anxiety, stress, and fear.
This reopening anxiety probably stems from the list of uncertainties that face us as we return to society. From going back to your work cubicle to using public transportation to dropping your kids off at daycare and even visiting retailers and restaurants, there are a host of new invisible factors, as well as rules and regulations, that we all have to consider and follow.
1. Upheaval After Upheaval
First and foremost, humans are creatures of habit.
Over the last few months, many of us have taken very legitimate steps to create a shelter-at-home environment that was also a mentally healthy experience. From building an at-home-office to using exercise apps and online fitness classes to redesigning a new daily routine, many people have made shelter-at-home their new norm.
After months, we’re now used to shelter-at-home. You’ve got virtual socializing on a timed schedule. Maybe you’ve started to enjoy the flexibility of working from home or the privacy of yoga in your living room. And now that you’re used to this new way of life — some of us even enjoying certain aspects of it — we’re faced with yet another upheaval as businesses reopen and employers ask their workers to return.
It’s frustrating, to say the least, and anxiety-provoking for sure!
2. Trusting In Others
Just because states have decided to edge towards reopening economies doesn’t mean that COVID-19 has been extinguished. In fact, some populations are experiencing resurgences of COVID-19 cases in areas that have relaxed shelter-in-place rules.
Even though this was expected to happen, it doesn’t help ease our anxieties about returning to the social stream.
On top of COVID-19 fears, there’s also the anxiety of counting on those around us to keep us safe. In order to feel and be protected, coworkers, friends, family, neighbors, and all those strangers must follow proper hygiene with hand washing and sanitizing, wear masks, and practice social distancing of 6-feet or more. On top of that, we also have to trust that restaurants and retailers are properly training their staff and following strict COVID-19 guidelines behind the scenes when handling our food, beverages, and goods.
With that said, many people experience a break of this trust on a regular basis, therefore, how can you instill it in an entire society?
3. The Work Dilemma
It’s not just about returning to socializing. For many, there’s the dilemma of work.
While some people may have the luxury of working from home, there are thousands of jobs that require workers to be on-site and hands-on.
These workers have to make money somehow and with economies reopening many of them face an ugly situation of returning to work to get paid or getting laid off. Yet returning to an enclosed work environment with other people increases your exposure. On top of that, if you have to send your children to daycare, that’s yet another layer of exposure for your children and the rest of your family.
While the financial burden of shelter-in-place may be eased, the increased worry of contracting the virus increases.
Isolation-Related Mental Health Issues
Understanding why you might be anxious about economies reopening and returning to a bit of normal life is only part of the puzzle. It’s also important to understand how your psyche may have changed during the shelter-at-home phase of this pandemic. From post-traumatic stress to depression to burnout, most of us have been put through the wringer and it’s time to acknowledge, accept, and respect the journey we’ve been on!
While there is a diverse variety of mental health fall-out from shelter-in-place, these are the most commonly seen ramifications.
1. Coronavirus Pandemic PTSD
When it comes to PTSD caused by this pandemic, there’s no simple cut-and-dry way of defining it. This is partly due to the fact that PTSD can crop up directly after the trauma or it could hide away within us and surface months or years later. On top of that, the pandemic could be stirring up PTSD from a different incident.
With that said, there are a few ways — typically four — in which PTSD may manifest: re-experiencing trauma, — nightmares or flashbacks — avoidance of certain situations, — those that remind the person of that experience — negative changes in emotions and beliefs, — this could be how you think about yourself or those around you — or hyperarousal, — generally involves difficulty sleeping and concentrating or becoming easily startled.
While some people may experience PTSD from the trauma of being hospitalized with COVID-19, others may experience trauma from the “environment that the COVID-19 pandemic has created” including being blocked from loved ones, being isolated, and “experiencing disruption to daily lives and routines.”
You’ve most likely already heard this term being used during regular life, yet in the pandemic, there’s a whole new set of stressors that are linked to increased complaints of utter and total burnout.
Working from home can be a huge stress reducer … in the right circumstances. These are not those circumstances.
Many people don’t have a separate home office, therefore they are forced to share a non-ergonomic space with family, roommates, or partners. This includes children that require attention and supervision or other adults that are seeking space to do their work as well. Not only does this put additional stressors on our brains, but our bodies are also suffering from backaches, neck tension, increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, and increased eye strain. While organization, creating rotating schedules, and instituting strict routines are all great ways to work around shared home office space and keeping kids busy, it’s still incredibly difficult.
Add on to that the fact that people are burning out from total isolation or the opposite, zero alone time, and it’s a perpetual loop without an end!
This particular breed of burnout may also lead to more severe psychological issues such as disruption to our sense of self or even a traumatic loss of our own identity.
3. Financial Stress
For those unable to work from home and furloughed from their jobs, there’s the issue of financial security.
Yet, it goes deeper than that.
The states and most of the world is entering a recession due to the effects of an almost worldwide lockdown. This means that even those that are working are feeling the financial strains of the pandemic.
Financial stress can’t be dealt with like normal stress. If you don’ have the money to pay your bills then you simply don’t have the money. Mindfulness, meditation, and self-care won’t cure this. With that said, these calming techniques may offer you the headspace and mind clarity necessary to start problem-solving.
Rework your budget. For those that have never budgeted, now’s the time to get one started! Cut out the unnecessary spending — basically anything that doesn’t involve food to eat or the roof over your head. This means nix online retail shopping, think about halting streaming services, and try not to order food out. Look for government opportunities such as unemployment or other aid programs to get you through for the next couple of months. Take a day and look for online work opportunities such as customer service gigs.
How To Cope with Reopening Anxiety
Luckily, you can prepare yourself for reopening!
The situation around the pandemic may be out of your control, but you have the ability to harness your own mental health and prepare your body and mind. Let’s take a look at some best-practices for handling reopening anxieties:
1. Control What You Can
Oftentimes, anxiety is linked to loss of control. While it’s important to accept the fact that we can’t control the pandemic, it’s also helpful to realize you do have control over many other aspects of the situation.
For instance, we have complete control over our own habits such as COVID-19 hygiene guidelines, — washing our hands, sanitizing, and wearing a mask — social distancing ourselves from others, and choosing how to interact with those around you in a respectful and safe manner.
2. Create Decompression Time
You’re already burned out from shelter-in-place — whether it’s overworking due to lack of boundaries or juggling family responsibilities and work responsibilities — and now you’re being asked to add another layer of stress to this pandemic pie by returning into society.
Address your burnout and carve some decompression time at home. This can be as simple as taking a walk at the end of the day, journaling before bed, or taking a bath.
It’s important to turn your home back into a place of reprieve, relaxation, and safety.
3. Mindfulness for Trauma Management
Part of your anxiety around reopening has a lot to do with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Maybe this is a bit far-flung for you to believe.
Have you been experiencing disturbances in your sleep patterns? Are you regularly mentally distracted? What about physical oddness such as dizziness, moments where you can’t breathe, or severe lethargy?
These can all be signs of PTSD.
One of the least invasive and most influential ways to deal with PTSD at home on your own is through mindfulness practices. Being mindful can be completely tailored to you as a person. If you’re a news junky, become more mindful about how and when you consume news stories. Be mindful about the “use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, which can worsen your mental health and physical well-being in the long term.”
It’s also important to be mindful about implementing a healthy routine and habits.
Mindfulness extends to your physical body such as being mindful about the food you eat and staying physically active. This includes self-care! Respect downtime, indulge in your favorite television shows and enjoy the foods you love. But make sure you do all these things mindfully and not in excess, as these habits can quickly become unhealthy.
You’ve probably seen this advice strewn throughout shelter-in-place articles.
That’s because meditation works!
While it may not be for everyone, if you’re struggling with anxiety around the reopening of the economies, it’s definitely worth it to try. Meditation works for anxiety because it involves the “habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts,” which is exactly what needs to happen with an anxious mind. Being able to both confront and redirect anxious thoughts towards something positive is an incredibly adept way to deal with anxiety.
Along with managing reopening anxiety, you may also find that meditation is able to reduce stress, enhance self-awareness, lengthens your attention span, helps with memory loss, and improves your sleep.
Definitely worth a try!
5. Give Supplements a Try
If you can tackle anxiety through healthier personal habits, then that’s definitely the way to go! Adopting healthy habits — such as physical activity, self-care, meditation, and mindfulness — provide you with real-time relief tools that you can use for the rest of your life. Plus, these techniques have also been shown to boost overall mental health, provide calm and clarity, and can even have positive physical effects.
With that said, in times such as these, we may need a bit more of a helping hand!
This is where natural supplements come into play and can be extremely useful. Some of the best anxiety-reducing natural supplements include omega-3 fatty acids, ashwagandha, green tea, valerian root, kava kava, and even dark chocolate!
Here are a few plant-based, trusted supplement brands to give a try: NaturaLife Labs Organic Ashwagandha, NOW Supplements Valerian Root, Zenwise Health Store Vegan Omega 3 Supplement, or these Vegan Organic 70% Cacao Hu Chocolate Bars.
Resources to Give You a Hand:
Remember, you’re not in this alone!
Even though we’re sheltering at home, it doesn’t mean there aren’t resources available for those in need. If you feel that your anxiety is simply too much to conquer on. your own, try a few of these resources to get the telehealth help you need right away!
First off, there is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association, which offers a ton of online resources, as well as their help hotline at 1-800-662-4357. You can also access the National Network of Depression Centers, offering a listing of resources based upon your specific need:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association Helpline at 1-800-662-4357
- Suicide, Prevention, and Awareness Support by State
- National Alliance on Mental Health Hotline at 1-800-950-6264
- Crisis Text Line at 741741
- National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233
Looking for a bit of education? Try visiting the Everyday Health Depression Resource Center, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or Mental Health America Depression Support and Advocacy.
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