The emotional challenge of ‘getting back to normal’
After living with masks and hand sanitiser for so long, only going outdoors when necessary, keeping a safe distance and avoiding socialising with family and friends, getting back to normal pre-pandemic life can be a real emotional challenge. And that’s because humans have an extraordinary instinct to survive and ability to adapt, which means we can get used to almost any scenario, however hostile and tough it may be. So things that caused us anxiety, anguish, sadness, fear and uncertainty a year ago, like being confined to our homes (what’s often called “cabin fever”), has now become a safe haven that we don’t want to leave. If you’re finding it difficult to ‘get back to normal’ and this new reality without restrictions and to regain your pre-pandemic routines, you’re probably experiencing some degree of anxiety about getting back into the world.
“This is not a disorder”, clarifies Cinthya Molina, psychologist at SHA Wellness Clinic, “but rather a set of maladaptive symptoms which, in some way, are justified in a given context. In other words, it’s a normal reaction to an abnormal situation and we shouldn’t make the mistake of turning it into something it isn’t”. Over the last few months, we had to deal with an enormous amount of emotions that have affected our health and mental wellbeing. As Cinthya says, “at the beginning of the pandemic, many people came to the clinic because they were experiencing poor sleep, fear, stress and anxiety. But, as time went by, the symptoms evolved into depression, and we noticed a lot of worry and hopelessness and that people were becoming more alarmist and irritable, all of which was closely linked to the excessive consumption of information about Covid, which we strongly discourage. You should always be up to date, but you shouldn’t overconsume news. This has led to a lot of emotional baggage, creating a breeding ground for syndromes, like cabin fever and the anxiety that come with getting back into the world”.
We’ve gone from wanting to return to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’ to feeling anxious about giving up the safety of home. “We have started to see people who have a certain fear or dread and experience real, even mental, anguish when having to leave the environment they have created for themselves: going out, interacting with people, or going back to the gym or the office”, says the doctor. “And they are having a really rough time because they’ve created a nest that felt safe, and leaving that shelter means having to expose themselves, again, to real danger, because Covid is still out there, to situations that they no longer know how to handle”.
Learning to manage and normalise all these emotions is essential to be able to cope with the ‘new normal’. Of course, it is important to know that being afraid, anxious or uncertain in a situation like the current one is totally normal. To get over feelings of apathy and anxiety, start by leaving the house gradually, do activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good, and focus on the present, on the positive and on what you can control. In addition, always complying with the health measures in force wherever you go will give you a sense of safety and confidence that will help you overcome this emotional challenge.