- Because of new post-pandemic challenges, psychologists think more people will seek therapy.
- Everyone will have different comfort levels when transitioning back into normalcy.
- There are steps you can take to ease yourself into a post-pandemic routine.
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Whether you’ve been infected with COVID-19, risked getting exposed as an essential worker, or worked from home, the pandemic has disrupted everyday life.
“A lot of us have been locked into almost like chronic stress mode,” Craig Sawchuk, a psychologist at the Mayo Clinic, told Insider.
But as more people get vaccinated and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosens its COVID-19 mitigation strategies, signs of normalcy are returning. Restaurants are opening up and some offices are letting people return to the office.
Despite the return to a semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy, lots of people will have long-term effects from the trauma they experienced.
It’s normal to take time to process a traumatic event
Sawchuk said even if a threat, like COVID-19, goes away, it takes time for our bodies and minds to readjust.
After a traumatic event, Sawchuk said it’s normal to reflect and think about the event. But it becomes a problem if people have flashbacks or nightmares for more than three months.
Sawchuk said while he’s seen an uptick in people seeking therapy during the pandemic, he expects to see more interest once normal life returns. This is in part because people will be dealing with new stressors, like adjusting to a hybrid in-person and remote job or being overwhelmed with social plans.
How to ease your way back into life post-pandemic
Sawchuk said much like we had to adjust to stay-at-home orders, we’ll have to adjust to post-pandemic life. “It’s going to be like re-adapting to a new normal again,” he said.
But your routine doesn’t have to drastically shift. Sawchuk and Moriah Thomason, a child psychiatrist at NYU Langone, said there are ways to help yourself, and others, ease back into post-pandemic normalcy.
If you’re an employer, tell employees what to expect
Thomason said that employers often laid out clear instructions on what employees should do when stay-at-home orders were announced, and suggested there should be specific instructions if you have to return back to the office. Acknowledging and formalizing back to work processes will help people know what to expect.
In Thomason’s own office, rather than abruptly asking employees to come back, she laid out a plan. “I said, ‘Here’s what the future looks like.’ We’re gonna enact this plan so that we can get you back on site,” Thomason said.
Be respectful of people’s boundaries
People have been impacted by the pandemic in different ways. While someone may be grieving the lost time to meet a new partner, others may still be coping with long COVID symptoms. Because everyone has different comfort levels as they resume in-person routines, Sawchuk said it’s important to meet every person where they’re at.
“Be respectful of other people’s choices in terms of how they’re navigating things going forward. Don’t apply undue pressure,” Sawchuk said.
Set boundaries for yourself
Set realistic expectations for yourself and test out what activities you’re comfortable doing. “Taking a graduated approach, like getting into the shallow end of the pool,” Sawchuk said.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the notion of post-pandemic normalcy, Sawchuk suggested starting off by hanging out with one friend outside, and if you’re comfortable, eventually plan meet-ups inside.
Be aware if you or a friend start to withdraw
After a traumatic event, Sawchuk said it’s normal for people to ruminate or have flashbacks for up to three months, but it’s a bit trickier to gauge a normal timeline for the pandemic because it’s ongoing.
Sawchuk said if withdrawing from friends is interfering with your day-to-day life, it may be time to seek out assistance, like talking to a primary care doctor who may refer you to a therapist. Likewise, if you notice friends start to withdrawal or stop taking care of themselves, check in on them.