Returning to Normal
At the time of writing of this article it is September 18th, 2020. It has been quite a journey making it through the COVID-19 pandemic since March, 2020. Intense fear/anxiety, massive job loss, increases in substance use disorder problems, and suicide have occurred for the past six months. As the lockdowns begin to relax and people continue returning to a normal life post the COVID-19 pandemic there are some simple things to keep thinking about for your mental health and overall wellbeing.
Because people have experienced intense fear, and because state and federal officials still don’t agree on how dangerous (I.e., easily transmissible) the COVID-19 disease is, many communities and businesses will be in a state of disagreement about how to reopen and which measures are wise. Some businesses will encourage only people currently sick to wear masks, others will require everyone to do so. As many of you have likely noticed, the masks feel dehumanizing in some ways because we can’t see each other’s facial expression, and others feel reassured that people are trying to minimize the spread of a potentially deadly condition. The name of the game will be “adjusting” because there is no one way people view the problem and how to manage their fear about the threat.
Much like you turn the volume up or down on a television to suit your mood, the program (some are recorded soft or the music is louder than the dialogue), and how much background noise you may have (ex. Loud kids outside or a noisy A/C unit), people will be adjusting to variable states of fear, which will result in more or less protective measures. No doubt, most people want life to “go back to the way it used to be.” This desire is being negotiated by every kind of person at every level of power almost every day for the last few months. It seems like the spread has slowed dramatically, fewer and fewer are hospitalized for COVID-19 related conditions, and more are recovering from it. All of these are positive signs. Still, going back to “normal” is likely not going to happen soon, which brings us to our second idea for coping with returning to normal: Patience.
When we have a threat, we tend to react very strongly. Imagine right now, in front of you is a 500 pound bengal tiger. The fear (if not terror) of this giant killing machine animal would move you to do a number of things to ensure your survival. Some of you may have the urge to run, whereas others of you would have the urge to kill the tiger if equipped to do so. These are both normal responses to a very scary threat. This is fear, fear is our response to threats, which typically comes with some behaviors to help mitigate the fear.
Fear drives much of our COVID-19/lockdown behavior, because fear is an emotion that is present when we perceive some kind of threat, no matter how credible it is. The more fear we have, the more we engage in the six prototypical threat responses common among almost all animals (especially mammals): fight, flight (run away), freeze (to assess situation), fawn (fall over), fright (make loud noises or posture to scare off predators), or submit (give in). You could say the lockdowns are a form of “freeze” behavior or “flight” behavior. Given the massive fear, on everyone’s part, and the way people overreact (and sometimes under react), politicians, business owners, and others are going to probably struggle more with relaxing restrictions. Even more so, it’s possible that people will want to lock down again if there is a surge in new cases of the virus
With greater understanding of how fear works and how typical it is for people to act and even overreact, then we can summon up some patience. It is astoundingly difficult to be stuck inside, wearing a mask, not traveling, losing one’s job, and so on. This lockdown is enough to give us all some version of “cabin fever.” We need to keep being patient with ourselves in these circumstances. Our fear and frustration is normal. The situation is getting better, but because fear is so primitive and because of our lack of true understanding about our relative safety we remain afraid, which causes us to take the utmost precautions and assume it could be more dangerous. This is normal, it’s human.
Finally, we need to maintain our coping skills that are working, and introduce new skills as they become available. Maybe you are already working out at home to cope or doing some diaphragmatic breathing (as we have recommended in other articles). This is great! Now that things are relaxing some, maybe new activities can be added to help stave off the fear and frustration that will exist as we open up more.
For instance, you may have spent most of the last six months indoors. Perhaps now is the time to consider going out and doing activities we all know are good for our mental health like catching some sun (most people are Vitamin D deficient) or going on a hike. Maybe you haven’t seen certain friends or family members in a while, this may be a good time to *safely* meet with them again if possible. As restaurants and other facilities open more it may be nice to do little things like get some food you haven’t had in a while or visit an area that you used to frequent.
As always, please be reasonable and be safe, especially if you or the people around you have been at risk or have chronic health conditions associated with COVID-19 risk.
This pandemic has been difficult for all of us, and many of struggled severely with mental health and substance use disorders in this time. It is going to be a bumpy road coming out of a very fearful state for months on end, much like the difficult path that people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders traverse as the begin their recovery journey. These recovery paths we are all on require patience, adjustment, and coping. There is no shame in struggling, and no shame in asking for help when we are struggling. We strongly encourage anyone reading this (or someone you know) to seek out help if you’re having a hard time adjusting.
If you have any questions about treatment please feel free to reach out to us anytime at 747-222-7464 or at https://www.pcicenters.com/