The COVID-19 pandemic, which has already spanned over a year and caused untold disruption across the globe, has required many of us to reshape our lives. Just as there is no singular experience of the pandemic itself, there is no one emotional experience either. For many, COVID-19 has required a stressful reorientation to work, family, and school- sometimes creating anxiety and isolating experiences. For others, the pandemic also represents a deep source of grief, economic distress, and trauma. Whatever your experience, it is valid.
It's important to remember that even though we are seeing changes back to a new normal, the United States occupies a place of privilege. Access to vaccines remains disparate and deeply unequal across the globe. With declining case numbers and increased access to vaccines in much of the United States, there is growing cause for optimism. However, with these developments also comes the social and psychological space to reflect on our personal and shared experiences over the last year and a half. COVID-19 has caused many losses, including the loss of life and good health, loss of jobs and financial security, loss of social connections, and loss of rituals, like attending holidays with family, graduations, and celebrating other milestones. At times, the grief we’ve experienced is more ambiguous or without a clear sense of closure. When we experience a loss that’s difficult to understand, we can feel stuck and left searching for answers.
Indeed, such answers can be even harder to find when one is a member of a marginalized group. The continued degradation of communities’ sense of belonging and faith in institutions, is an additional barrier to healing. The viral pandemic brought greater light to the simultaneous pandemic of racism in the United States. During COVID-19, people faced increased instances of hate and violence against Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, police brutality against Black, Indigenous, People of Color, a tumultuous presidential election, and more. As we work toward healing, we must rebuild communities, strengthen relationships, and hold institutions accountable for the long-abiding pandemic of institutional racism.
So, what’s next? Besides keeping the memories of the pandemic and using them as fuel to prepare for the future, there are ways to ease back into a world where some aspects of the pandemic are abating:
- It’s okay to feel anxious: Acknowledge your feelings and know that you are not alone. Many of us have gotten used to COVID-19 guidelines, and it can cause anxiety in the face of stopping practices like wearing masks. Consider checking out RIO, the Counseling Center’s three-session mindfulness workshop that offers tools for managing anxiety and stress.
- Take things slow if you need to: It’s okay to decline invitations to a get-together, or to continue to wear a mask even if you aren’t mandated to. Showing yourself and others patience and compassion can help ease anxiety.
- Be cautious of avoidant behaviors: While you don’t have to immediately embrace a post-pandemic lifestyle, it’s important to face some fears. Avoiding readjusting can cause more severe concerns in the future.
- Create a post-pandemic bucket list: Remember all of those “After the pandemic....” statements? Make a list of yours and prioritize getting back to the things that you have really missed during the pandemic or wished you could do for the first time!
- Schedule in regular time for self-care: Focusing on mindfulness, doing activities that you love, exercising, and more can help ease feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Take social media breaks: There continues to be a great deal of news circulating that may be upsetting. Putting your phone away for stretches of time or turning off social media notifications can be a big help.
- Stay aware of prolonged grief disorder: If you or someone close to you experiences prolonged and intense grief, it’s important to ask for help.
- Reconnect with affirming spaces and communities when you are ready.
Remember: the COVID-19 pandemic is a shared experience, affecting everyone in the world, albeit in different ways. While we might not have the same reactions, and some may even seem to transition more easily into the new “normal,” we must extend patience and understanding to others, as well as to ourselves.
If you are struggling to adjust, or are looking to connect with a counselor, please give the Counseling Center a call at 410-617-2273. To speak with an after-hours counselor, please call 410-617-5530.