Q: I am vaccinated now and feel excited to resume some of my previous activities, but I am also anxious. How can I get back to normal?
A: Anxiety over the re-opening of our community is normal and many people are feeling the same way right now. When the stay at home orders were issued, it was clear what we were asked to do to stay safe. Now that the vaccines are being distributed and the COVID case numbers are declining, we can start to resume some of our previous activities in a safe way. However, this process is less clear then the process of shutting down. Navigating this may create some anxious feelings that need to be worked through.
Some people may be ready to socialize and transition back to previous ways of life with ease. However, for others, there may be a slight level of social anxiety that has been exacerbated by the prolonged stay at home orders. Reducing in person social activities may have brought comfort and now you may feel pressure to return to the way things were.
Pressure to get out again and outside of our comfort zone may come directly from friends and family who want to see you, or it may be internalized and placed onto yourself. Either way, it is helpful to understand where the pressure comes from and think through what is important and necessary for you to feel comfortable.
Even as guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) change and relax you can set your own pace and comfort level. But do take steps forward to build your confidence. It is normal to feel nervous, but you can talk yourself through those feelings by reading the CDC recommendations, understanding the COVID numbers in your area, and providing yourself positive self-talk about your safety.
You do not need to rush back to the way things were, but it can be helpful to take small steps and practice getting out in public in a way that feels safe for you. If you have not yet had a social outing, then consider making plans with one friend who you feel comfortable setting the parameters with ahead of time. Regardless of the CDC recommendations, you may choose to ask your friend to wear their mask, stay in an outdoor setting, or position your chairs 6 feet apart, if that what makes you feel safe.
Practice some deep breathing or other relaxation techniques so that you are prepared in case you find yourself in public feeling anxious. Prepare with these techniques to calm yourself down, and also prepare a plan to excuse yourself from the situation if needed. Sometimes just knowing you have a way out of a situation can help us feel more at ease.
We have learned to live through uncertainty, and this is just another example of how we are building our own resiliency. Be proud of yourself for getting through a difficult year and for re-integrating yourself into the public community despite your anxious feelings. Practice patience and kindness towards yourself and know that you will get through this transition phase just as you have come through many other times of transition in your life.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org