Anxiety About Returning to “Normal” Life

Kristen Roman Psy.D.| Director of the Young Adult Program:

Lately I’ve been thinking about how strange it is that many of us have transitioned from being eager to return to “normal life” post-pandemic to worrying about returning to “normal life,” without noticing that shift as it was happening. Of course, we can all identify things we’d like to get back to, such as traveling, giving higher-risk loved ones a hug, or having more of a break between work and home life. But with that “normalcy” comes more transition and adjustment, which many of us have become burnt out by over the past year. For some it also brings more pressure to get back to working towards certain goals, such as dating, career growth, or maximizing how your free time is spent. We’ve also learned that the concept of “COVID being over” one day is an inaccurate way to think about it, which makes the idea of going back into our usual spaces and social situations less care-free. While we are all learning and coping with this at the same time, I have been reflecting on some concepts that I imagine will be helpful.

For starters, check the facts on what you’re telling yourself about these transitions. Are you assuming things about the future (e.g., “I’ll hate being back in an office,” “I’ll be so awkward”) or catastrophizing (imagining the worst possible scenario)? I’ve seen countless social media jokes about how we’ve all forgotten how to socialize. And while I see the kernel of truth in this, I also remind myself that as adults, most of us have acquired decades of social skills practice that is unlikely to have completely disappeared during the pandemic. I also remind myself that everyone is in this together, so we’re all likely to be a little “rusty” socially. I plan to try and embrace the awkwardness and let go of the assumption that this is so much easier for everyone else around me.

Whenever I get overwhelmed, I find it helpful to take things one area at a time. Pick just one area of your life, whether it’s health/fitness, career, social, family, or hobbies. Begin to imagine what realistic changes you anticipate in the near future as life opens up a bit, and start problem solving and planning for what will be difficult about this and how you’ll cope with it. The emphasis is on the near future part, as it’s hard to anticipate how things will look too far down the line. 

Finally, if the theme of your anticipation of going back to “normal life” is anxiety and dread, try making a list of things you’re looking forward to in order to balance out the things you’re worried about or unsure of. It’s less about focusing on the bright side and more about acknowledging the good alongside validating the challenging.

See you on the other side!

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