“Pandemic.” This word comes with a rush of thoughts, emotions and experiences that we all have experienced in the recent past. We have lost more than five million lives due to COVID-19 and this loss has created a deep emotional hole among people. According to World Health Organization(WHO), COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in mass trauma on a scale much larger than the second world war and on top of this the mental health toll of the coronavirus pandemic may take decades to last.

As the world is working on rolling out vaccination programs at global level, countries have begun lifting various restrictions. And while the thought of gathering with family and friends again is gaining momentum, traveling and getting back to loved activities feels joyful. But not so surprisingly a lot people are feeling stressed and anxious about the “return to normal”.

What is post-pandemic stress and anxiety?

Post-pandemic stress and anxiety basically talks about experiencing excessive negative emotions like stress, nervousness, anxiety etc. when things are getting back to normal. Such feelings are arising because of the safety related doubts this trauma has embarked on us.

From speeches emphasising “you’re safer at home” to speeches stating “vaccinate yourself and get back in action!” the transition has been quick. For some, this change was a relief. But for many, the quick change has ignited the fire of an already growing inferno of pandemic-related anxiety and a lot of questions if I’ll get sick upon returning to office? Is the vaccine safe? What if someone confronts me or doesn’t recognise me? Will my kids remain safe at school?

Experiencing rational anxiety (fact-based concerns) about “returning to normal” is expected and reasonable for all personality types. However, it is irrational anxiety (unfounded worry) that can prevent people from resuming swiftly in social and career encounters that benchmark a healthy, happy life.

Cause and symptoms

While the sole cause of experiencing these anxiety related issues is existence of COVID-19 pandemic and how it has actually made life ‘uncertain’ in every sense. The associated stress and anxiety can take various forms and can be manifested in symptoms similar to post traumatic stress disorder. To be precise, post-pandemic life is a post-traumatic life and it’s quite natural to feel stress after this global traumatic event. 

The symptoms might include increased anxiety, low motivation, feeling hopeless or powerless, disrupted sleep, changes in appetite, feeling numb, being increasingly angry or irritated, negative or catastrophic thinking, withdrawing socially and feelings of struggling to cope.

Dr Dan Chisholm, a mental health specialist for the WHO in Copenhagen, Denmark, says: “Covid-19 has had a number of effects on people’s mental health and wellbeing, ranging from worries about contracting virus, or the stress brought about by efforts to try and prevent infection and/or lockdown, self-isolation and quarantine, or the detrimental effect on mental health associated with lost jobs, income, education or socialising. The cumulative effect of these measures has led to increase in stress and anxiety, as well as depression and loneliness.”

Dr Dan further said “For many, the symptoms associated with these conditions will diminish as the public health situation improves and restrictions are eased, but for others, the experience of having had Covid-19, or living through the pandemic will have long-lasting effects, in particular for frontline health care workers or bereaved family members”.

How to deal with it?

Stress and anxiety occur when irrational thinking overpowers us. Post-pandemic symptoms can improve mental well-being significantly with supportive behavioural changes to regain control of anxious feelings.

Ways to guide behavioural changes:

  1. Understand your triggers

Instead of running away from what you’re feeling, accept it. It’s okay to sometimes fall into feeling anxious and stressed but to come out of it, it’s essential to face these emotions. When you’re conscious of what you’re feeling, you’ll be able to find the triggers for the same.

  1. Self-talk

Once you know your triggers, start facing them is a rational approach. Question your thinking and guide yourself to think appropriately based on stats. For instance, instructing oneself that “Vaccination is effective as the research says so. People who are vaccinated are safer.”

  1. Meditation

The idea of meditating might seem difficult when you’re stressed but it can work and improve things significantly. Try to sit in a peaceful location with a cup of tea (without scrolling through your phone!) and try slow breathing exercises. Deep breathing, meditation, and mindful practices can calm senses and train our brain to better handle situations and manage stress.

  1. Exercise

Just moving are body in simple ways like dancing, jogging, cycling, running etc can make us feel calm. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in body and improves overall physical health which ultimately enhances our mental health.

  1. Sleep

Our mind and body are designed in a way that they need rest to function in their full potential. So, prioritise your sleep no matter how hard you find it to keep your phone aside and stop yourself from getting that daily dose of updates.

  1. Diet

Good diet is a fuel for our body. Eat good so that your body gains the strength to face these irrational feelings.

  1. Bond with nature

Studies have confirmed that time spent in natural surroundings and green environment like tending to a garden or house plants or walking through a park can help reduces stress and calm people. 

  1. Connect with people

Man is a social animal and interaction is in our nerves. Talk to your friends, family, therapist or anyone about your fears and you will feel much stronger together.

  1. Be kind to yourself

Talk to yourself and treat yourself because you have all the strength to face these negative emotions and to deal with it, just gather yourself together and instead of being critical, be kind to yourself.

  1. Create a routine

Bringing things to order and having a routine prepares our mind for ‘what to expect next’ and planning ahead gives us time to gather energy to face what stresses us in a better way.

   11. Ground yourself

Try grounding exercises like pause to name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste, if you’re feeling anxious. This will shift your focus from irrational thinking to your environment and that will significantly reduce your worry.

  1. Seek therapy

If the above steps don’t improve your situation, symptoms are affecting you regularly and ‘bad days’ are starting to outnumber ‘good days’, then it might be best to seek help.

Post-pandemic stress and anxiety has emerged due to uncertainty around the pandemic. As some countries are moving towards relaxing Covid-19 restrictions, socialising with upbeat, positive friends with whom you feel safe and secure can be useful in minimising stress. To improve resilience, mental performance and focus, create structure and certainty around you, which can be attained by

  • clear communication and transparency,
  • exercising daily,
  • getting out in nature,
  • prioritising quality sleep and/or
  • even starting a new project.

Hadia Mansoor
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