Heal Your Way

Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Post-Pandemic Anxiety - What is it?

Given that many people have been lonely or have been working in difficult circumstances, it is not surprising that some of us may be longing to get back to our pre-covid routines. However, the reality that we now face is that there is still a great deal of uncertainty and unpredictability, especially as COVID-19 is looking like it is here to stay. This will impact on our daily lives as we try to navigate the road ahead to establish some sense of normality. Fear and trepidation around returning to ordinary life in the Covid-19 era is called ‘post-pandemic anxiety’ or ‘re-entry anxiety’. It seems we will be required to adapt to a changed work and social landscape. As a result many people are experiencing conflicting emotions. Therefore, we need to pay attention to the impact on our wellbeing as we try to adapt to all the changes that we are collectively experiencing. We also need to think about a toolkit for coping as we go back to our ‘real-worlds’.      

What has early research shown us about the Pandemic and our wellbeing?

  • One study found that as many as 70% of people living alone and working from home cited mental health issues such as  loneliness, sleep disturbance, depression and anxiety as reasons for wanting to go back to the office environment. Preliminary indications showed there was a reduction of anxiety among this group when lockdown was eased in June 2020. 
  • The stress of pandemics and epidemics often disproportionately affects marginalised populations. For example, low-income workers facing job insecurity are more likely to experience anxiety during quarantine measures. 
  • Many individuals are also feeling resistant about going back to pre-covid ways of life, especially if working in pressured and demanding environments. For some, the pandemic afforded opportunities to redefine how they wished to continue their working and personal lives with a greater need to make wellbeing a priority.
  • People with pre-exisiting mental health issues have been particularly vulnerable to reduced levels of wellbeing.

What Are Some of the Ways that Post-Pandemic Life May be Impacting your Wellbeing?

Essentially what we all have taken for granted has been turned upside down and we are now having to constantly question and think about our daily behaviour and the behaviour of others. This is bound to impact our sense of equilibrium and trigger uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety and low mood.

Let us unpick some potential areas of post-pandemic anxiety:

  • As things are slowly opening up you may be experiencing waves of anxiety centred around catching covid and potentially passing it on to others. Additionally, you may be worried about becoming seriously ill and feel a sense of personal responsibility for protecting those that are more vulnerable.
  • You may be worried about losing your job and potential loss of income at having to periodically isolate. Also, being asked to isolate can be very stressful as it means having to cancel social plans and  forego seeing loved ones. Consequently placing additional strain on those who live alone.
  • Sadly, bereavement has been around many of us on an unprecedented scale. As a result, those working in the health sector are experiencing high levels of burnout and signs of PTSD. Added to this is uncertainty about the next wave or variant and how this will impact future lockdowns and the health care system.
  • You may be feeling nervous about returning to working in an office or reconnecting with friends and family. Some of us may have mixed feelings about social distancing and hugging, especially with the Delta variant making the rounds. Not everyone is naturally tactile and  may even have  welcomed the physical space brought about by social distancing rules. In contrast, individuals who have been more isolated crave the comfort and warmth of hugs and handshakes. So we find ourselves in a  difficult balancing act to know what is right for every situation.
  • With changes in legislation the onus has shifted to individuals and organisations to make their own decisions about mask wearing and covid-safety rules. This can trigger more anxiety, particularly for those who prefer clear rules and structure. Hence, creating confusion about what is the best course of action to take. For example, people have reported being pressured to delete track and trace apps so as not to isolate and miss days off work.
  • Heightened awareness and tension about others’ behaviour can leave you feeling stressed, for example  people on public transport may be sitting too close for comfort.
  • Living with long-covid can be debilitating and many people have been forced to leave their jobs because they feel unable to cope. Thinking about your long term recovery can be overwhelming and have a knock on effect on confidence, self esteem and motivation.

Tips to help manage your wellbeing as you ease back to 'normal' life:

If you find setting personal boundaries a challenge or you may have difficulty reading cues as to what people feel comfortable with then begin by taking small steps. Start with contact one-on-one and then increase to smaller groups. Slowly acclimatise yourself to what you may fear or find uncomfortable. This is called the ‘dipping approach’. For example, if you are not keen on hugging you can express this by saying: “I’m taking it slowly and I’m still being cautious”. 

Listen to your inner voice and give yourself permission to say No! If you don’t feel comfortable attending large group events then simply decline without having to apologise or feel guilty. 

If you are feeling anxious about being in the workplace then try to articulate your thoughts to a colleague or manager. There should be a space for you to be listened to and heard. Companies will need to prioritise the wellbeing of staff by understanding what their employees are going through and offer the necessary support. Check your workplace COVID-awareness policy if you need clarity about what is expected from you and others to keep you safe.

The pandemic has given pause to reflect on our work/life balance. In some cases, working from home may have been a revelation and improved your quality of life. For instance, you enjoyed spending more time with your children, increased your productivity or cut down on commuting and other time consuming daily routines. Re-evaluate what is important to you and how you can integrate these into your current lifestyle.

If possible, a hybrid work pattern that involves spending time both in the office and at home may offer a more sustainable work/life balance. Hybrid working policies are currently being developed and where feasible these may become permanent arrangements. Flexible working is becoming increasingly desirable but this will of course depend on the nature of your job.

Thinking ahead of any potential obstacles or barriers will help to alleviate some of your anxieties by putting strategies in place that tackle each practical step. For example, thinking about the safest way of commuting to work….perhaps walking and bussing rather than taking the tube the whole way may alleviate some stress. Also, meeting friends outdoors socially may be preferable to indoors.

Green spaces, nature and exercise have been proven to uplift our mood and general wellbeing. Try to continue with any healthy lifestyle pattern that you may have introduced during lockdowns. This will help with building resilience and a strong immunity. Don’t forget to include pleasurable activities that lift your mood into your daily routine. This might include volunteering, which became very popular during the height of the pandemic. Helping others is a great way to boost our sense of wellbeing

Finally, no thoughts, feelings or concerns should be out of bounds for you to openly discuss with your friends, colleagues and family. Keeping your feelings bottled up will only create more stress.

Make Your Wellbeing a Priority

It is important to remember that experiencing some anxiety is also a natural response to an unnatural or unusual situation, so don’t be hard on yourself, exercise self-compassion and try to accept that it is to be expected. Your level of discomfort at taking risks will also guide you towards making decisions that are right for you. There is no ‘one size fits all’ response or way of doing things! Everyone  should be given the time and space to adapt at their own pace. This is important to allow for proper processing of what has been a collective trauma, trying to figure out what life will be like with COVID-19 as part of everyday life. The pandemic has highlighted the disparities and flaws in our world, bringing a heightened sense of urgency to make our wellbeing and the wellbeing of others a priority. In many instances the way we live and work has been challenged, giving us pause for reflection to improve the quality of our lives and the lives of others. 

Resources and References

Menopause researcher Clea Duval

This article was written by Clea Duval

Clea is a MSc Psychology graduate from The Open University. She works collaboratively with psychology and wellbeing practitioners, to provide desk-based research and writing content for blogs and articles focusing on aspects of mental health and social issues. Feel free to get in touch if you'd like to discuss these topics further. You can connect with Clea via LinkedIn or email [email protected]