How to Cope with Anxiety in the Return to 'Normal' Life

John Kevin/iStock.com

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to life after vaccination.

Life is slowly returning to what it was pre-pandemic, but some people may be feeling anxious about the transition. Behavioral scientist Chris Segrin explains why.

Not everyone will feel comfortable ditching their masks or gathering in large groups, even after vaccination, and it’s important that we be understanding of one another, says Segrin, a professor and head of the communication department in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

After what might seem like a surreal 14 months, life is slowly returning to something closer to what it was pre-pandemic, thanks largely to the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

However, the return to “normal” may not feel quite as expected.

Segrin, a behavioral scientist who studies interpersonal relationships and mental health, says it will take some time to get back to the way things were before, and, for some, a full return to normal may not be possible.

After enduring more than a year of pandemic-related stress, people will have varying levels of comfort when it comes to resuming participation in public gatherings, ditching masks, or returning to the office, even post-vaccination, says Segrin.

For that reason, Segrin says it’s critical that we all be understanding of one another and recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to life after vaccination.

Here, he explains why people might be feeling anxious and how to navigate next steps:

Q: We’ve all been longing for a return to “normal,” but now that we are inching closer to that, are some people feeling anxious about going back to the way things were before? Why?

A: Yes. For the last 14 months, people have been conditioned to see other people as a source of infection. Often, the messages and news accounts that involved serious illness and death were quite dramatic. It is not possible to “unlearn” these beliefs and attitudes overnight. It took people a long time to adopt various public health measures to counter the spread of the coronavirus, and it will also take a long time for people’s attitudes and beliefs to return to normal, if that is ever possible.

For some people, it is likely that they will have anxiety about things like shaking hands and being in close proximity to groups of other people for a very long time. Furthermore, only one-third of the US population is fully vaccinated at this time. Therefore, remaining cautious is a very good idea.

Q: Even with updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on mask wearing, some fully vaccinated people are hesitant to ditch the mask, especially since choosing to not wear one has come to be viewed so negatively. Why are we so reluctant to give up the masks, even with these new recommendations?

A: There are several things in operation here. First, the recommendation to stop wearing masks is, itself, controversial, and many people know that. If two-thirds of the population is still not vaccinated, some may feel it is not yet time to stop wearing a mask. The mask, to some, has come to symbolize care and concern for other people’s health. It is understandable why some people are not yet ready to abandon that concern.

Also, people are creatures of habit. To those who have become accustomed to wearing a mask in public, it has likely become second nature—something they do without putting a great deal of thought into it.

Q: Even post-vaccination, people may have varying levels of comfort when it comes to activities like gathering, traveling, or spending time with unvaccinated family and friends. How should people navigate these conversations as more social invitations are received, or when talking to someone who might have a different comfort level?

A: This issue simply must be handled with the utmost respect for and understanding of each other’s points of view, even when we personally disagree. There is no value in damaging relationships over things like attending a public gathering.

The best thing for everyone to do right now is give the members of their social network time to adjust to the changing social and public health circumstances—at their own pace. Different people have different anxiety levels, different underlying health conditions, and different networks of other people in their lives who may be particularly vulnerable. The biggest mistake anyone could make right now is to say, “Well, I’m vaccinated now, so let’s all get back to normal.” It is still the case that two-thirds of the US population is not vaccinated, and of lot of those people never will be, and to this day about 500 people die every day in the US from COVID-19.

Q: Some people may have found that they prefer or are more productive working from home, and they’re now being asked to return to the office. What’s your advice for navigating that transition?

A: Navigating that transition has to start with discussions with supervisors and coworkers. Some people have jobs that require them to be in certain places at certain times. Others do more behind-the-scenes work with their jobs. For these reasons, there is not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach that will work. To those who have jobs that require being in a public place—such as teachers—there appears to be an excellent tool available to protect people from the coronavirus: a vaccine.

I also believe that, for a lot of people who plan to return to work in person, there will be considerable benefit in gradually ramping back up to full time in the office. It would seem barbaric to go from 100% work at home to 100% work in the office over the course of a weekend. The benefit of a gradual transition is that it will give people the time to build experience with working in the office again and, hopefully, not experience any bad outcomes. As this process gradually unfolds, a sense of security can potentially return.

Q: As a society, we’ve been living in a prolonged state of anxiety for more than a year. As conditions begin to improve, what sort of long-term effects might the stress of the past year have on people?

A: Long-term wear and tear on the nervous system can be damaging to both mental and physical health. It is vital that people find effective coping mechanisms and means of taking themselves away from stressors, even if temporarily. Here, again, it is important to remember that no two people are the same. One person may have enjoyed the time spent at home with family and pets, and others may have had to endure horrific illness and/or loss of family members. Consequently, it will be important to have some understanding of the vastly different trajectories that some people might be on as they attempt to return to normal, keeping in mind that in severe cases, that may never actually happen.

This article was originally published in Futurity. It has been republished under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.