That is likely to change. For many, including myself, anxiety comes even before a gunshot hits the arm. “Anticipating social interactions is often the hardest thing,” says Brown. “The anticipatory anxiety of what that will actually be like might be worse than the reality of how severe the anxiety is once it’s here, but it’s that period of build-up that can be very stressful for people.” Welcome to the preparation period.
The good news is that we can mitigate these symptoms. The first step is to be present. Easier said than done, but when you feel future-oriented thoughts taking over, Brown says, try to grasp them and remember not to worry about summer until, well, summer. “When we think about the future we feel anxious and when we think about the past we tend to feel sad. So, the objective is, as far as possible, to try to stay in the here and now ”.
Above all, we need to make agreements to be kind to ourselves. Richard Heimberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University and former director of its Adult Anxiety Clinic, notes that this kindness will be especially needed as both the anxious and the non-anxious will have some “rust.” Even things that felt second nature in the old days, like traveling or working in an office, could cause some discomfort after a whole year of no practice. “The level of anxiety that [all] the overall sensation is going to be elevated due to health problems and oxidation, ”he says. It’s important to make sure that whatever goals we set for ourselves take this into account and that we treat them as aspirational rather than prescriptive.
“If we expect us to behave perfectly,” says Heimberg, “then we are going to punish ourselves if we don’t meet that standard.” For some, the resurgence may be more of a slow move than a clean break through our shells, and that’s okay. “It’s about accepting that everyone else is as concerned about what we think of them as the other way around. And it’s about giving us the opportunity to just be human. “
With lives in The line, the threat of Covid-19 gave many of us the confidence to say no, to others and to ourselves. The few social outings that I managed to have in the confinement thankfully come with an additional layer of sensitivity from friends and family. I did my best to provide the same for them. Perhaps most importantly, circumstances led me to extend that non-judgmental acceptance policy to myself as well. And I’m not ready to quit.
I do not have to. That honesty with ourselves and with others about what we feel comfortable with and what we really want do not have to disappear along with the virus. In fact, all the practice of navigating conversations about what settings and activities we’re okay with, virus-wise, could leave us better off.
“This pandemic has created a language for people to start expressing how their comfort levels may be different than their friends, and I think it’s an amazing start,” says Brown. “When the context is different, and the virus is a minor reason why you can’t get socially involved, I think people will still need to set those limits for themselves … Not that they should be saying no to everything, but that you should be saying yes to things that could bring you joy. “
In a perfect world, I would cut Marie Kondo out of my social life after the vaccine, doing the things that make me happy and saying no to the things that don’t. I would burst the pandemic bubble without losing any of my pandemic perspective. Of course, it is never that simple. I am still the same person. Expectations will inevitably creep in. Every now and then I do things that I don’t want to, or I look around and wonder if my decisions are the right ones. But hopefully I’ll be a little kinder to myself along the way.