A man in a leather jacket and mask stares thoughtfully out of the window as the train drives

Photo: Maria Sbytova (Shutterstock)

The vaccine should mean the US is out of the worst depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, but for many of us it hardly feels like we’re out of the woods.

In addition to the growing threat from the highly contagious Delta variant and the corresponding return of indoor mask mandates, there are the slowly burning social, emotional and psychological consequences of the past 15 months to deal with. That means going back to things like parties, air travel, and the rest of life outside of our lockdown bubbles can be a joyful experience, but it can also be overwhelming.

“Anecdotally, I think people are really exhausted,” says Anna Sale, presenter and co-founder of the WNYC podcast Death, Sex & Money and author of the book Let’s Talk About Hard Things. “The idea of ​​restarting, of reappearing – there is a general feeling of anticipation and pressure to get out of there again and to hit the limits of your energy level and your interest.”

For many, the whiplash of full reopenings last summer may have added an extra layer of internal conflict. “I think a lot of people feel almost inflated because we just go ahead and pretend it didn’t happen,” said Amanda White, LPC and founder and clinical director of Therapy for Women in Philadelphia. “And a lot has changed.”

Whether you are dealing with grief, changing relationships, or the difficulty of finding a new balance after a prolonged period of fear, isolation, and lockdown, here’s how you can approach the process without increasing your current stress level.

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Small, steady goals are really underestimated. “

Take stock of your habits – and start slowly

From work to exercise to socializing, almost everyone has turned their routines upside down in the past year, and the process of restoring a “new normal” may feel like starting from scratch. Instead of taking an aggressive all-or-nothing approach, experts advise taking it slow.

“I think small, steady goals are really underestimated,” says White. “My recommendation is to practice a few things that you used to enjoy doing with an open mind instead of packing every night of your weekend. Experimenting and trying things out and at the same time leaving room for your emotions will help you to control this process so that we don’t burn ourselves out. “

White adds, “I’ve seen people pounce on everything and I don’t recommend that. I think we no longer have the same tolerance as we used to, and that needs to be rebuilt. “

In many ways, this is a good time to take stock of what parts of your pre-pandemic life you want to reintegrate and which parts you want to reassess.

“With COVID and lockdowns, our environment has changed so our habits have changed, and now people will tend to rejuvenate their good and bad habits,” said BJ Fogg, Stanford behaviorist and author of Tiny Habits. “Sit back and list the habits you once had and miss and decide which ones you want to revive. Start with maybe three of them and build them back into your new routine. “

Fogg suggests making every habit as simple as possible, be it working out 10 minutes instead of an hour, or experimenting with a few new versions of your desired routine before committing to the one you like best and the one You are most likely to stay.

Conversely, this moment can serve as an opportunity to permanently break out of old patterns.

“Maybe now you’re going back to work and you’ve been invited to cocktail hour and don’t want to fall back in,” says Fogg. “Have a game plan for this scenario and say something truthful like ‘during the pandemic I changed my course of action, I could come but I won’t drink or I would like to hang out’ with you but not in that kind of way Vicinity.'”

Fogg adds, “Give it a try and don’t expect to be perfect. The point is, it might feel a little scary and strange because you’ve never been here, but now is a wonderful time to control your habits. “

… the key is to say, ‘I’ll wake up and listen to what my body needs today.’ “

Work with your body, not against it

Even if you emerged from the pandemic in good health, your body may not feel or function the same way it did two years ago, and these changes are difficult for many people to manage.

“There are many fears that the world will open up again,” says Chrissy King, fitness and strength trainer and founder of the Body Liberation Project. “People always feel overly sensitive to their bodies in the summer, and when they come back and see people they haven’t seen in a long time or take off summer clothes that don’t fit – all the fears people have become reinforced by the pandemic. “

Rather than rushing into an extreme new diet or exercise regimen, the expert opinion should focus on ways to help your body feel the best it can after an extended period of stress.

“I think the key is to say, ‘I’ll wake up and listen to what my body needs today,'” says King. “You can have a plan, but also allow yourself to wake up every day and listen to yourself. When your body demands rest, allow that flexibility to lean on what actually feels good every day. “

And instead of struggling with over-tight shorts that you expect to fit back in, King suggests buying new clothes that fit your current body and revising the cultural assumption that bodies never change or fluctuate.

“Bodies change and our relationship with our bodies changes day by day,” says King. “I always focus on how to show compassion in that moment and talk to myself like I would with my best friend.”

Focusing on smaller topics rather than global catch-ups can help open the door to more useful conversations.

Talk to your people

If you’ve come out of lockdown with a distinct feeling that many of your closest relationships are not exactly where you left them, you are nowhere near alone. To get back on track with the people you care about, compassionate and direct communication is key.

“Let them know that you have good intentions and that you want to keep the relationship going,” said Ann Friedman, co-host of Call Your Girlfriend podcast and co-author of Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close with friend and co-worker Aminatou Sow. “And lead with openness and transparency, even if you cannot fully name the feeling. It’s about taking the emotional risk to let that person you care about know what’s really wrong with you. “

This can look like opening a conversation about issues that were controversial between the two of you during the pandemic (e.g.

“I try to lead in everything that happens to me and where I feel insecure. Sale says. “When you talk about it, if you reply to a text message, for example, you also get permission to come back and say, ‘I’m sorry, I still don’t know how to do it!'”

If you’re unsure how to start a conversation with a friend or loved one who you suspect is struggling, it helps to start small, too. “I often say something like ‘I was thinking of you, how are you?’ or ‘You’ve got it on my mind,’ ”says Sale. “If I have signs that they were under stress, I could say, ‘I was thinking about the last time we talked and you mentioned this thing, how is it going?’ You are showing that you really cared and listened the last time they spoke without saying, ‘I can see that you are not doing things well.’ Nobody wants to hear that with these words. “

Focusing on smaller topics rather than global catch-ups can also help open the door to more useful conversations.

“It’s worth not expecting the two of you to do ‘last season’ and summarize everything that has happened in the last 15 months,” says Friedman. “Start where you are now and be open with each other. Specific questions like your afternoon, what you are currently seeing, what your child is doing this summer. If you stay on the ground and keep asking questions from there, it will usually reveal a lot about how the last 15 months have been for you. “

There’s a lot of pressure to have a great summer and get back to absolutely everything, but it’s also okay to be sad now. “

Give yourself space to grieve – and to rest

At a time when it is all too easy to feel the pressure from outside to become “normal” again, experts recommend the most consequent: Give yourself and others time and empathy to be where you are.

“There has been so much grief in the last year and a half,” says White. “Either the kind of grief we think of in the traditional sense, about the loss of loved ones, or the grief about other things we’ve lost, be it a high school graduation or a birthday that can’t be celebrated the same way. The loss of jobs, the loss of friendships, even the loss of who we were before the pandemic. “

Missing the social gatherings and rituals that usually help us deal with loss has made these feelings even more difficult to deal with.

“Being with people is our grief, often, and it wasn’t really possible,” says White. “There’s a lot of pressure to have a great summer and get back to absolutely everything, but it’s also okay to be sad right now and not quite ready to do it all over again.”

Talking to loved ones and spending time journaling can help you process these more difficult feelings, says White. “Anything you can do to slow down and get in touch with your emotions will help.”

Also, if you have the resources, this may be a good time to seek help from a professional. “I believe many of us can benefit from therapy and you don’t need a diagnosis to benefit,” says White. “As a general rule of thumb, if you’re trying to do things but are unable to do them, this is a really good place to start with a therapist. They will help you understand why you are having problems and identify minor actions that will help you move forward. “

Just like the impetus to deal with the outside world, an ongoing part of the reopening process will also be taking breaks, checking in with ourselves and making room for rest.

“I really advocate figuring out how to take time off work when you need it,” says Sale. “And also remember that it is beneficial if energy expenditure reduces stress or headaches in the long term. Things like reminding myself that it is healthy for me to go out and see people, which feels like an immense expenditure of energy, but has the long-term benefit of making me feel less isolated. “