A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I did something we haven’t done for more than a year. We drove to one of our favorite places, a harbor in Ventura, CA. The ocean is directly across the street, so we love to walk along the shore after spending time at the harbor.
First stop was a casual fish restaurant, Andria’s Seafood. We sat on the patio savoring every bite of fish and chips as it melted in our mouths. After a leisurely dinner, we took a stroll, basking in the activity and vitality of the area. Outdoor music at one of the restaurants helped set the vibrant, fun mood. People dined outside, laughing and chatting. The line for the ice cream shop was really long. We hadn’t seen it like that since two summers ago.
It was all so… wonderfully NORMAL. Even with masks on. I could see joy in peoples’ eyes, the genuine happiness of being out together. Enjoying life. Getting back to the things we love.
Like millions of others during the pandemic, I desperately missed being with people. Video chats are great and I was so thankful for the technology, but it’s just not the same as an in-person human connection. I’ve missed seeing smiles, giving and receiving great big hugs.
This past month I’ve been taking advantage of the loosened restrictions, enjoying coffee and dinner dates with friends and family. There’s nothing more important to me than connecting and nurturing those relationships. One lunch with a close friend was three hours long! I hadn’t seen her since Thanksgiving 2019.
But there’s a flip side to all of this.
I don’t like to admit this… but returning to life as it was pre-COVID-19 brings me anxiety. I wish I could say I was simply excited. I like to think of myself as a people-person, often up for going places, experiencing new adventures. In reality, I’m not super outgoing or adventurous. I’m more of a homebody, most comfortable in my own surroundings.
And what about meeting with friends and family I haven’t seen in more than a year? Will it feel like it used to be, pre-pandemic? Or will it be filled with tension and disagreements? With such extreme political division, racial strife and injustice in 2020, this is a huge worry. Even though we may be on different political spectrums, can we still get along? What about the issue of vaccination? Masks? Can we get together and agree to disagree? Will we be able to stay away from touchy subjects?
Talk about anxiety.
This past year, we’ve had to adhere to strict boundaries and have become somewhat conditioned not to go anywhere or gather in large crowds. To wear a mask, wash hands often, use lots of hand disinfectant. Keep socially distant. Quarantine. Birthday parties were replaced with drive-by celebrations. No usual holiday gatherings, dinners, or any type of social meetings. No travel. No hair appointments, routine doctor and dentist visits, book club wine nights, writer’s group, etc.
Even if I wanted to do these things, I couldn’t.
And sometimes–this brought a sense of relief. I wasn’t expected or obligated to participate in any of these activities. In a way, I felt freer with zero pressure to keep up a busy schedule. For me, that equals less stress.
I love being home with my husband and our pup Duke. Our daughters have been working remotely, so they’re able to stay with us for periods of time, which makes my heart so happy. We’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to be together, knowing this time was a mixed blessing and wouldn’t last forever.
My daughters have gotten used to working from home, managing their busy schedules with countless Zoom calls and virtual meetings. They’ve enjoyed not waking up super early for the hour-long, traffic-filled commute to their offices. Or getting all dressed up for the work day. How will they feel going back? Excited? Stressed out? And what about kids, parents, and teachers who have struggled to navigate online learning. How will it be to return to school full time in person? Exciting? Yes. But it can also be an anxious time, consumed with apprehension and worry.
While it was really hard adjusting to the boundaries and restrictions, removing them can cause stress. There’s actually a term for it:
As someone recovered from panic disorder and living with generalized anxiety, I’m definitely feeling reentry anxiety. Is it strange that I’ll miss the simpler days?
Note: I’m having such conflicting thoughts right now, it’s hard to put into words. Guilt. How could I possibly miss life during the pandemic? It was truly awful. It felt surreal. Extremely scary, so very sad, uncertain, overwhelming, horrible. Please know I’m often thinking of the 580-thousand plus souls who lost their lives due to this terrifying disease. So many families have been affected.
I’ve been wondering how to ease into this new normal, post-pandemic life with the least amount of anxiety possible. Here are some ways:
- Take it slow. Don’t book a full schedule. At first, limit social activities to once a week.
- Set limits on the length of time of activity.
- Set limits on what is comfortable in regards to the amount of people at the gathering, if it’s outside, if masks are required. For me, I’m not yet okay going to a concert or a crowded movie theater.
- Make a list of things to do now that restrictions are lifted. For me, that’s travel locally, spend time with friends, make a hair appointment and doctor appointments I’ve put off for too long.
- Don’t judge yourself. Be compassionate. There’s a whole range of emotions you can have, which is normal. You can be excited, scared, happy, guilty, stressed–all at the same time.
- Accept that life may never be the same as it was before the pandemic. This could be a job, a relationship, your routine. Priorities may have switched.
- Get out for fresh air. Exercise. I love to walk in the mountains near my home.
- Practice deep breathing. Say a mantra while slowly inhaling and exhaling. “Life is good.” “This will pass.” “I am enough.”
- Remind yourself that just because you CAN doesn’t mean you HAVE to.
Like everyone else, I never dreamed I’d ever experience living through a global pandemic. It was life-changing. Even though reentry to this new phase of post-lockdown can be filled with anxiety, it’s also an exciting and hopeful time.
I’m already looking forward to a huge family gathering for Thanksgiving.