Post Pandemic Mental Health: How to Cope
The world is finally re-opening. Plans are being made, trips booked, and people are slowly crawling out of their homes to face the outside world again. It’s life as we once knew it, once again.
So why do I feel so overwhelmed? And why am I still struggling with my mental health, even after the pandemic has ended?
During the height of the pandemic, when people were deep in their sourdough recipes and Netflix binges, you probably dreamed of the day when quarantine was over and you could go outside again. But now that the world is re-opening, many people are experiencing newfound social anxiety and other mental health issues.
The good news: you’re not alone, and there are ways to cope.
Let’s take a deeper look into post-pandemic mental health, and what you can do to help you feel like yourself again.
Mental health during the pandemic
As you may have experienced yourself, mental health during COVID-19 was at an all-time low.
Isolation, joblessness, fear, and global uncertainty severely affected the well-being of people around the world. Before the pandemic, only one in ten adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. In January 2021, however, this increased to 40% of adults experiencing symptoms of mental illness.
Young adults suffered even more, with 56% of young adults experiencing anxiety or depression. Racial and socioeconomic minorities, essential workers, and single parents also were at an increased risk of mental illness.
While the degree to which the pandemic affected mental health will be different for everyone, studies have shown that COVID-19 is, in fact, a traumatic stressor. This means that people affected by COVID-19 can show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the fact and may experience exacerbated symptoms of mental illness, such as social anxiety.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety goes beyond feelings of nervousness or awkwardness you may feel in unfamiliar social situations. Social anxiety is the second most common form of anxiety and affects roughly 7-13% of Americans each year.
Social anxiety is characterized by intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious (e.g., blushing, stumbling over words) or being viewed as stupid, awkward, or boring. As a result, they may avoid social situations altogether, or when a situation can’t be avoided, experience severe anxiety and distress.
Post-pandemic social anxiety
“When the pandemic is over, I’m never turning down a social invite ever again!”
This may have been something you said during the pandemic, especially if you’re an extrovert. The pandemic was especially challenging for extroverts who need in-person interaction and feel energized by spending time with people.
If you’re introverted or already living with social anxiety, you may have welcomed the opportunity to hide from the world. You may not be in a hurry to get back to your old life and may be enjoying your safe haven.
But both extroverts and introverts are experiencing feelings of dread and panic at the thought of returning to normalcy. For introverts, this may be a familiar feeling, but this could come as a surprise for extroverts. Besides, haven’t they been waiting all year for this? Why do I feel so anxious at the thought of leaving my house or hanging out with new people?
The fact of the matter is this: life will never look the same as it did pre-2020. You may be fixated on “getting back to normal,” when in reality, it’s actually impossible to get back to the way things were. Both you and the world have changed, and embracing those changes (and new challenges) can help you move forward.
How to cope with post-pandemic social anxiety
If there was ever a time that social anxiety was a shared experience, it’s now. After a year of isolation, many people are experiencing newfound or exacerbated social anxiety. The good news is that with these increasing numbers of social anxiety will hopefully come new understandings about the condition and a more widespread acceptance for those who struggle with it.
Here are a few ways you can cope with social anxiety after the pandemic:
Just because you said you would go to every party after COVID ended, or because you can see all your friends and family again, doesn’t mean you have to. Listening to and respecting your needs can make social situations more fun and prevent you from getting burnt out.
How to set boundaries:
- Enjoy some self-reflection: You can’t set boundaries until you know what your needs are. Take some time to journal or reflect on what causes you to feel anxious or distressed.
- Start small: If you’re a chronic people-pleaser, setting boundaries can be hard. Start small, and practice committing to just one or two boundaries.
- Communicate your boundaries with your loved ones: If you’re afraid of how your friends or family will react, don’t be afraid to be open about the boundaries you’re setting for yourself and why they’re important to you. This will help them both understand your needs and hold you accountable.
Examples of post-pandemic boundaries may look like:
- Only seeing friends/family twice a week.
- Only meeting in a setting in which you are comfortable.
- Only returning to the office for X number of days a week to start (if this is an option).
Not feeling like yourself, experiencing social anxiety, or getting overwhelmed easily is all normal feelings to experience after the pandemic. While it can be frustrating dealing with new mental health challenges, it is important to remember that everyone will heal and move forward at their own pace.
Validating your emotions and practicing self-compassion is one of the most important steps for growth. No matter what you are feeling, you are not alone, and many others feel the same way. Don’t push yourself to adapt too quickly and communicate to others what you need to feel safe.
Although you may feel like you should go back to the way things were before the pandemic, you may actually find that you don’t want to. Your personality is not set in stone, and life experiences (like a pandemic) can change who you are and your needs. Maybe you actually enjoy spending more time alone than you did pre-pandemic, or you now prefer smaller group hangouts rather than large parties. Embrace these changes rather than trying to go back to the way you were. The chances are that you learned some important lessons during quarantine as well, and these shouldn’t be tossed aside in an effort to “get back to normal.”
Ask for help
You don’t have to struggle alone. If you’re struggling with social anxiety or other mental illnesses, don’t withdraw. Instead, seek help from friends, family, or a licensed professional and share how you feel.
If you or anyone you know is in a crisis or may be in danger, please use the following resources to get immediate help.
- Call 1-833-456-4566
- Your call will be answered by a highly trained suicide prevention responder
- Offers affordable counseling for individuals, couples, or teens
You can also help financially support the counseling of people who need it by purchasing a WIRTH Hat. Learn more by visiting wirthhats.com.