More and more Americans are fully vaccinated each day. COVID-19 deaths are dropping. Mask restrictions are easing. The U.S. continues to return to normal all around us.
So why won’t that bad feeling go away?
If you’re not feeling quite ready yet to meet up with friends or stop wearing a mask, congratulations! You’re a human being! Right now, millions of people are experiencing the same post-pandemic anxiety you’re feeling.
The past 15 months have been traumatic. For some (such as doctors, nurses and frontline workers), that trauma was often immediate and overwhelming. But we’ve all endured the quiet, low-boil trauma of being isolated in our homes and denied our usual social outlets for dealing with stress. Being hypervigilant and worried for long periods is emotionally exhausting, and those effects don’t just vanish the moment the danger does. It takes time and conscious effort to move past what happened to us.
To help you manage any lingering pandemic anxiety, we asked the therapists at the AMITA Health Center for Mental Health for their recommended coping strategies.
Make a “Pie”
I use this thought exercise frequently when I’m counseling someone with depression. I ask them to think of what they were doing when they felt the least depressed. Then I help them visualize it as a pie comprised of eight slices. Those slices could be anything. For example:
- Socializing with my friends
- Exercise and fresh air
- Eating healthier foods
- Taking my medication, etc.
When they feel depressed, I ask them if any slices of the pie are missing. If so, what are small, achievable ways to add them back to the pie? If you’re not eating well, try adding a banana to lunch each day. If you’re not exercising, set aside 10 minutes for a walk or quick workout, then add a minute each day.
Give it a try. Write down your pre-pandemic “pie.” Is anything still missing from it? What can you do to add it back?
Gail Nelson, MA LCPC
Know Your Numbers
There is no “cure” for anxiety. It’s a normal human response, everyone feels it and that feeling can fluctuate based on the situation you’re in. So when I work with patients, I instead help them pinpoint their current anxiety level on a scale of 1-10, then identify thoughts and behaviors that can help lower that number.
Let’s say you’re traveling to work to present some new ideas during a meeting. Your anxiety level might be around 2 or 3 starting out. Suddenly, traffic comes to a standstill due to an accident somewhere ahead. Now your anxiety shoots up to a 7 or 8 because you’re afraid you’ll be late for the meeting. You can’t control the traffic, but you can assess your anxiety and bring it down to a more manageable level (4-6) with coping skills such as:
- Call the office to notify them you might be late. They’ll understand.
- Call a friend or loved one to vent and hear a friendly voice
- Deep breathing: Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds, then repeat as needed
- Ground yourself so that you can think clearly by observing the following in your immediate environment:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you can feel
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
Gail Nelson, MA LCPC
(Additional coping tactics provided by Gina Guerra, BA, and Nicole Yarmolkevich, MS, LPC)
Keep the Key to Self-Validation in Your Pocket
Seeking validation from others is healthy and can bring us closer in our relationships with friends and family. But the benefit of practicing self-validation is that you can take it with you everywhere you go, so you are never alone.
What is self-validation? Imagine yourself talking to your best friend who is having the same problem as you. Tap into the compassion that you would want them to show you, now substitute yourself for them. In essence, you are teaching yourself to be kind to yourself.
If you like arts and crafts, here is a fun tool for self-validation whenever you need it. Take a regular-sized notecard, fold it in half and cut it in the middle so that you have a pile of cut squares. Next, punch a hole in the corner of the pile of squares and insert them onto the loop of your keychain.
From there, decorate each card with:
- Affirmations or quotes
- Coping tactics or reminders
- Positive or funny memories
- Personal goals
- Significant names or numbers
- Anything else that helps you feel better