Adjusting to post-COVID life: It's okay not to be okay
The following are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily express the views of West Island News.
As the world continues to open up at what can sometimes feel like an alarming rate, I decided I’d share a few of my thoughts on the matter. I can’t help but notice that my feed is filled with friends and family celebrating and taking full advantage of their newfound freedom.
Reunions of friend groups that were put on hold for more than a year are finally happening, reservations are being made at bars and restaurants, and it feels like I’m being invited to a new social gathering every night.
Now, I’d like to make one thing abundantly clear. I am happy these things are happening. We have waited so long and stayed cooped up indoors for what feels like an eternity. It’s exciting to see the world head into its new version of normal.
I love seeing my friends and loved ones happy, and I love knowing that for many people, the end of lockdowns, curfews, and restrictions is the end of often detrimental loneliness, isolation, mental health concerns, financial concerns and so much more.
Needless to say, we deserve it.
That being said, I don’t think we’re talking enough about how difficult of a transition it can be. As hard as it was adjusting to lockdown life, it can be equally challenging settling into what feels like complete freedom. For so long, we have had our every move determined by government and health officials. We’ve had nowhere to go, and a curfew bonding us to our homes between 8 pm and 5 am.
Suddenly, we can practically go anywhere, see anyone, do anything, and personally, it’s intimidating. For a while, I’ve felt unsure of expressing my negative feelings about post-COVID life because I fear it being taken the wrong way.
I’ll re-iterate I am over the moon that we are finally getting some of our lives back, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also come packed with anxiety, fatigue, and overstimulation.
I spoke with a few of my friends and colleagues to talk about the wide variety of feelings we’re all having. Here’s what they had to say.
Social anxiety is at an all-time high
Social anxiety disorder is one of the most prevalent anxiety disorders affecting between 7% and 13% of Canada’s population (SOURCE). Having spent more than 18 months away from anybody except family and grocery store clerks, it is more present than ever before.
Suddenly, the simplest of conversations can feel the most tedious. Beyond that, heading into social scenes like busy shopping malls, restaurants, or even house parties comes with a new worry for a lot of people; let’s call it COVID fear. Never in our lifetimes have we had to fear sharing air with friends, family, and loved ones to this magnitude.
It can be incredibly overwhelming for a lot of people, especially those with underlying conditions, who have elderly relatives, or who work on the frontlines.
A good friend of mine recently traveled to Alberta, and she later told me just how difficult the flight was on her
“I don’t like big crowds anymore. The flight was really rough on me. Not an empty seat and no distancing.”
Social battery running low
Beyond social anxiety, a lot of us are feeling a much more urgent need to charge our batteries far more often. This year on my birthday was the first real chance for socializing I had for more than a year. I was fortunate enough to spend the morning with my mother and my partner, and then spend the evening with my dad and his girlfriend.
A little later into the evening, my stepsister, her husband, and her two children joined the festivities, and by 7 pm I was totaled.
All of a sudden, making small talk feels daunting, and socializing feels like running a marathon.
It’s as though a year in isolation has shrunk the size of our social batteries, and our tolerance for being out and about has narrowed immensely.
Sensory overload is a real thing
What once felt exciting, and invigorating can sometimes be overwhelming.
Walking into a bar or restaurant once felt effortless and riveting. Now the clinking of glasses, the dropping of cutlery, the dimmed lighting, the smell of a stranger’s cologne, even the feeling of the bar stool underneath you can contribute to total sensory overload.
“My anxiety has gotten so much worse. I prefer being alone. I have developed sensory issues that affect my daily life.”
Separation anxiety has been triggered
At the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, there was a lot of talk about what it meant for couples. You often heard that lockdown could either make or break a couple. And that’s absolutely true. You suddenly force two people into the same proximity for months on end and it can go one of two ways.
That said, what about the couples who met during COVID? My partner and I met in May of 2020 when the first wave was calming down, and restrictions lifted slightly. We’ve been dating ever since, and the majority of our relationship has been defined by curfews and shutdowns.
For nearly a year and a half we have had nowhere to go but to each other’s houses, and we’ve had nothing to do but spend time with one another.
For someone like me, who struggles with separation anxiety on a good day, adding COVID to the mix has made everything that much more difficult.
For many, being around their partner is (nearly) the only thing they need to feel fulfilled. However, for others, they require more social stimulation and take more of an interest in going out, seeing others, and connecting with the outside world.
For whatever reason, those two types of people usually manage to find one another, and it can be a cause of strain in a lot of relationships.
I would never expect my partner not to do things, but I would also never lie and say it’s not incredibly difficult for me. The culture shock has been drastic and tense.
Post-COVID life doesn’t feel real
More importantly, for some, post-COVID life isn’t real. A good friend of mine is studying to be a doctor, and for him, COVID is still very present.
“I Haven't adjusted to post-COVID life because COVID is still so prevalent around me.”
It’s so important to remember our frontline and healthcare workers. For them, the COVID-19 pandemic is still an uphill climb. Cases in the province and the country continue to climb and vaccination rates are stagnant.
For you to celebrate your freedom, our frontline workers are facing a very different reality. This is your gentle reminder to get vaccinated if you are able and to continue implementing all necessary precautions and government recommendations.
Fundamentally, my goal is to remind you not only to be gentle with those around you but to be gentle with yourself.
Give yourself time to rest and recharge, be patient with those you love, and take your time as you head into this new "normal."
We are all dealing with our own worries, insecurities, and stressors as we adjust. Perhaps take this as a reminder to be a little nicer to that stranger in the grocery store or your neighbor on the street. We've all just been through a one-of-a-kind ordeal, and we are a lot more similar than different.