7 Ways to Manage Post-Covid Anxiety as we Re-Enter Public Spaces
Welp, here we are in the summer of 2021... hopeful and... socially anxious as ever?! Many of us thought we’d be jumping with joy to go to a concert or eat out again and actually find ourselves feeling overstimulated, #anxious, and pretty socially awkward.
If this is you, you are not alone.
(P.s. was it always this damn loud everywhere?!)
Of course, parts of us feel relieved and hopeful, but other parts of us aren’t ready to kick back and group hug just yet.
Collectively, there is a messy mixture of human emotions: joy, relief, hesitancy, doubt, anger, anxiety... you name it. It’s a feelings party.
I know this, well, because I feel this. I also know this because I’m a therapist and get the privilege of sitting in a chair and listening to people’s feelings all day.
(While that may sound sarcastic to some, I mean it. It’s a privilege.)
Keep scrolling for 7 ways to help ease post-covid anxiety
A gentle reminder: We aren’t going back into public spaces as the same humans we were in February of 2020. And for those of us who have remained in public spaces, there is about to be a lot more people joining us which can change our physiological response to these spaces. To go from socially distanced to crowds is a big ole adjustment for our nervous systems. If your nervous system is taking a hot minute to adjust, you aren‘t the only one.
There are certain stimuli that we have been taught to register as immediate “danger” like being unmasked, being close in proximity, and groups conversing with one another. It makes sense if your nervous system takes its sweet precious time in adjusting as these cues adjust in risk-level.
Then we throw the mixed bag of ever-evolving info on what exactly that risk level is... and we have even more nervousness sprinkled on our post-2020 anxiety sundae.
So let‘s get to the goods:
7 ways to help ease the anxious parts of us:
While it may take awhile for our nervous system to adjust, there are steps we can take to help reassure + soothe the anxious parts of us.
1) Take your time easing back into public spaces.
Don’t rush your internal system. Give it time to adjust.
Feeling jittery about the idea of a crowd? Start small. Check in with your body’s cues to see if certain situations feel like “too much” and try honoring this.
It seems simple, but we can often override our body‘s cues when the expectations of us change. It can be helpful to check in with our own boundaries without accepting what others socially expect of us as the “end-all-be-all”.
2) Orient to your environment and surroundings
Orienting to our environment can help us regain a felt sense of safety when we start to feel sympathetically activated: aka: anxious/eeeeeek!!!/ahhhh!!
Think about dogs.....who doesn’t love dogs?
They enter a new environment and what do they do?!
They do a little exploring to see: is this safe? They take in the sights and smells and orient themselves to their new environment.
We can benefit from the same.
Allow your senses to take in your environment... noticing your feet on the floor, your back on the chair, the colors around you, the exits, sounds you hear, the smells...
Helping our body orient to the ”now” can settle our internal systems.
3) Give people a heads up beforehand about how you are feeling
It can be anxiety-producing in itself to let other people know you aren’t feeling so hot once you’re already anxious.
Especially with those free-spirited *like what even is anxiety?* friends or fam.
People are having a good time and here you are wanting to leave ASAP... not always so easy to communicate.
Giving our people a heads up beforehand can make it a little easier in asking for what we need if anxiety/discomfort sets in.
”Hey, I’ve been feeling kinda anxious when I’m out lately. Can we have a code word if I need/want to leave?”
”Hey, I may not stay long! I‘m excited to spend time with you, I may just get overstimulated and need to head out. Just a heads up!”
4) Turn toward your anxiety
”What do you mean ‘turn toward my anxiety’?! Don’t you know it’s THE WORST?”
Sooo, let’s give anxiety a rebrand, shall we?!
From my experience, ya know... working with anxiety as a therapist, and personally having anxiety for ya know... my whole life...is:
Anxiety is less like the scary monster from Stranger Things and more like a nervous little kid tugging on our sleeve saying “heyyy, I really don’t like this”.
We can: Acknowledge it. Notice where it is getting our attention in our body and if it feels available, offer it some reassurance.
Things we can say to this nervous little kid-version of anxiety:
“It’s okay to feel anxious”
”I totally get that you’re scared.”
”Hey anxiety, I hear you.“
”It makes sense you feel nervous right now.”
Does part of you want to roll your eyes when someone says: “Just Breathe”?
Ya, me too.
All eye rolls welcome when I say: Hey, a long exhale may be able to help ya out.
Try extending your exhale for 3 counts longer than your inhale.
Breathing in for 1...2...3...4... Breathing out for 1...2...3...4...5...6...7...
Sometimes, long exhales can tell our bodies and minds: “Hey, there is no immediate danger here.”
6) Carry a resource with you
Carry something supportive with you that may help you feel comforted and help ground you into the moment.
A favorite smell, stone, religious symbol, candy...
Chewing on some gum or candy can help us be “in our bodies” in the present moment
Smelling an essential oil or favorite chapstick can also help us ground into the moment
Crystals, prayer beads, crosses, a piece of jewelry... whatever feels calming to you... noticing the texture of it in your hand
Having a picture of a loved one or a pet on your phone readily accessible and taking in their loving little selves
7) Go easy with the “shoulds”
Have ya heard the phrase: “Stop ’shoulding‘ on yourself”?
It applies here.
None of us have ever lived through a global pandemic like this one. There are no “supposed to’s” or “shoulds” in the process of readapting to a post-Covid world. Try taking it easy on yourself.
Notice when your inner dialogue says the word “should”:
“I shouldn’t be struggling with this.”
”I should be better at navigating this by now”
“There’s no rational reason to worry. I shouldn’t feel this way.”
The emotional parts of our brain aren’t rational. They are geared toward survival. Cut yourself some slack if reasoning and rationality aren’t the key players lately.
TLDR: Hey, you aren’t alone if you aren’t all smiles re-entering into public spaces. Our nervous systems learn with experience and it may take them a hot minute to adjust to the world in 2021. Ways to manage anxiety: 1)Take your time 2) Notice your surroundings 3) Communicate how you are feeling 4) Reassure the anxious parts of you 5) Long exhales 6) Carry something comforting with you 7) Take a breaky-break from the word “should”.
Disclaimer: The content in this blog is not considered therapy and is not a replacement for mental health care. Please consult your own counselor or seek out counseling if you are in need of mental health care.
Additionally, it may not feel safe to reflect emotionally or to notice body sensations. If this is the case, I ask you to honor these experiences and not push yourself to do anything that violates your boundaries. You know you best.
About the Author:
Tyndal Elizabeth Schreiner is an anxious millennial who also happens to be a licensed therapist. She is a writer, an advocate, and a trauma-informed practitioner with a private practice serving the good folks of the State of Texas.