A Health and Wellness Post
By Dr. Robert Oliva
We’ve been through hell this past year. Even now with some light at the end of the tunnel, we are facing the challenge of finding out what the “new normal” might look like.
Vaccinations are proceeding at a good pace with over 50% of the US population having received at least one shot. But many are reporting not feeling as liberated and stress free as they anticipated. There are continued reports of anxiety and worry about reentering this “new normal” world.
Tell It Like it Is
Let’s keep in mind that we are all dealing with covid-19 trauma, both personal and global. Because of this, you may be facing mental health issues you never anticipated. Covid-19 is categorized as a mass trauma. The most common emotional reactions to such an experience are depression, anxiety, grief, panic, agoraphobia, substance abuse, eating disorders, and PTSD.
From frontline workers feeling helpless, to family members watching loved ones suffer and die, we have all been challenged by multiple stressors that squeeze thin our ability to cope. These stressors are compounded by preexisting personal or familial mental health issues that have created unanticipated, precarious personal emotional circumstances.
You may be experiencing one or more of these reactions. Anticipating reentering and reestablishing social relationships doesn’t automatically place you back in your pre-covid state of mind. If you are experiencing fear and trepidation, uneasiness, fear of leaving your home, panic, etc. you will have to take the time to care for yourself and manage your reentry.
This post is my shot at addressing some of these issues and hopefully helping you to explore your situation while mustering the resolve to take appropriate self-care, for yourself and loved ones. And maybe to even get involved in supporting greater mental health resources for your community.
Warning: Caring for yourself does not mean you need to look outside yourself and purchase lots of products touted in the marketplace, such as expensive skin care products, sex toys, and yoga mats. Self-care comes from tapping your internal resources, knowing yourself, and connecting to others.
Why am I feeling so anxious?
Reentry Anxiety – This largely unexpected issue for many of us is being called re-entry anxiety. The American Psychological Association has estimated that 50% of Americans feel anxious about resuming in-person activities. What is the new normal? It’s a perplexing and potentially anxiety provoking state for many of us.
The basis of this anxiety stems from either a fear that you will contract or spread the disease or that your social skills are so atrophied you will be overwhelmed and awkward in your interactions. These feelings can be exacerbated in specific populations such as racial minorities, those traumatized by losing loved ones, suffered financial insecurity, or those suffering preexisting emotional conditions.
The Tortoise — A good long-term friend of mine and certified caregiver, Karen Bromberg, wrote on Facebook about her reaction to being vaccinated and increasingly free to leave the house and reenter the world.
She said “I don’t know about you, but lately, I’ve been feeling a little like a turtle. It started a few weeks ago as things started opening up. The feeling was strongest when my husband and I actually went for lunch with friends. That hadn’t happened in over a year!” She recognized that what was once no big deal was now HUGE! She went on to say, “It dawned on me, on our way home, that after being in the house all this time, I was about to emerge from my tortoiseshell.”
Emerge, indeed. All of what was once familiar now seems strange, different. We will all have to stick our heads out of the shell, as best we can. For some, the transition will be seamless, for others will take some time, and for others it will be painful and take some time to accomplish.
What Can I Do to Allay my Fears of Reentry?
One way to allay your fears and get out of the tortoise shell is to know what you can and cannot do when fully vaccinated. The CDC just revamped their recommendations.
- Stop wearing masks while outdoors while you are walking, biking, running or alone or in small outdoor gatherings.
- Dine at an outdoor restaurant, have small outdoor gatherings with other vaccinated people but could include some who are unvaccinated.
You should continue:
- Wearing masks at outdoor gatherings such as concerts, sporting events, and crowded outdoor gatherings.
- Mask wearing at indoor activities such as visits to the barber, hair salon, shopping mall, museum, movie theaters or crowded places of worship.
Be especially cautious if singing in an indoor chorus.
The CDC makes clear that the risk of infection is very low while outdoors, especially among people who are fully vaccinated.
Previous CDC guidelines regarding indoor activities stay in effect.
- Visit a home or private setting without a mask with other fully vaccinated people of any age.
- Visit inside a home or private setting without a mask with one household of unvaccinated people who are not at risk for severe illness.
Travel guidelines include being able to:
- Travel domestically without a pre- or post-travel test.
- Travel domestically without quarantining after travel.
- Travel internationally without a pre-travel test depending on destination.
- Travel internationally without quarantining after travel.
Mental Health as We Emerge from the Tortoise Shell
If you haven’t already, please get vaccinated. They are safe and effective. Being vaccinated will enable you to reenter the world without the fear of being severely infected, being hospitalized or infecting others.
This points to the need for each of us to take our feelings and those of our loved ones seriously as we take steps to reenter. The entire country, and the world, is reeling from the cascade of negative emotions brought on by the pandemic. It will take time and patience to get back to a sense of normality.
What are some of the practical things I can do to improve my emotional health and resiliency right now?
- Go at your own speed, take your time, even if it’s baby steps.
- Set realistic goals that are attainable.
- Decide on the things that are most meaningful to you and focus your efforts there.
- Turn to family and friends when you find yourself struggling. Get a buddy.
- Accept your feelings. Don’t judge yourself for feeling anxious or fearful. It’s ok.
- Accept how you feel and work from there.
Here is a short but well-done video on dealing with reentry anxiety and worry.
Some other good professional resources that can help you learn about covid anxiety include:
Deepen the Process
One way to deepen your recovery is to take a mental health screening at MHAscreening.org. This screening is totally private and confidential. It can help you recognize the signs of mental distress.
What more can I do to maintain my mental health and be prepared to reenter a normal life?
Embrace living a healthy and healing lifestyle. This consists of
- Eating a healthy plant-based diet such as the Mediterranean diet.
- Exercising regularly by getting at least 150 minutes of exercise each week.
- Learning techniques to manage stress through meditation, relaxation training, and guided imagery. Practice being in the moment.
- Pursuing healthy and sustainable relationships with friends and family that are supportive and loving.
- Getting out in nature as often as possible.
What if things continue to spiral downward despite my best efforts?
When things just don’t seem to be getting better in spite of your best efforts, it’s time to consider professional help.
I recommend looking at Tools 2 Thrive. It’s one of the most comprehensive on-line tools to evaluate and find assistance for mental health challenges. The site covers staying mentally healthy, recovery and support, tools for mental wellness, how to find help, crisis resources, finding help for someone else, types of mental health professionals, how insurance works, and more. This is an invaluable resource.
The site also contains information on becoming an advocate for mental health, supporting needed policy proposals, Facebook accounts, just about everything you need to get involved to protect the mental health of the nation.
Here are a few additional mental health resources you may find helpful:
- The American Psychological Association can help you find a therapist.
- If you are having suicidal thoughts contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
- For help with mental health issues, you can contact NAMI, a mental health grassroots organization. In addition to general mental health counseling, they offer free crisis counseling.
- The Headspace blog is a rich resource on using mindfulness to tackle life’s problems.
- To find a cognitive-behavioral therapist contact the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.
Taking care of yourself emotionally is a key to navigating the stresses and uncertainties of life. Overlooking emotional states can lead to deeper trouble as time goes on. Untreated emotional issues can severely compromise the resilience we all need to forge a meaningful and happy life, especially now as we struggle to reenter and redefine our lives post Covid.
When you take care of yourself, you are taking yourself seriously. Suffering some mental anguish is a part of life. But addressing the anxieties and fears you are facing on reentry can lead to a capacity to appreciate your life more deeply, as well as the lives of those that mean the most to you. Self-care can lead to greater creativity, love, successful relationships, and a growing concern for the well-being of others.
Take advantage of the resources available. Adapt a more healing and sustainable lifestyle. When necessary, seek professional help. You deserve it.
You can access my website and subscribe to Transform Your Life for more valuable health information.