With vaccines widely available and case numbers dropping, cities around the U.S. are dropping restrictions and focusing on “getting back to normal” for the summer. But for many — after more than a year in isolation — “normal” feels scary. Experts say we need to talk more about what transitioning to a more open society will be like — and what our new normal will be like.
Here are some tips on how exactly to do that, from Riana Elyse Anderson, a psychologist at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, and psychiatrist Dr. Jessi Gold, from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
FIND THE RIGHT COPING SKILLS
People need to acknowledge their anxiety, and find the best coping skills to move forward.
But how do you find those coping skills? Anderson says even people who had reliable coping methods before the pandemic might find they aren’t working now. It’s important to assess if a coping skill is still working for you, and if not, explore others — on your own or with a mental health professional.
“Cooking for me used to be something that was such a great stress reliever. I’d come home, make a meal, and now if I have to look at another pot, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Anderson said.
CHECK IN TO FIND YOUR MENTAL HEALTH “BASELINE”
Gold says during the pandemic our baseline stress has changed. The things that did not cause us stress before the pandemic might be hard to deal with now, and vice versa.
“Our baseline mental health, our baseline stress for everything is very different than it was for everybody. And you just have to be aware of that and be OK with that,” Gold said.
EVALUATE YOUR FEELINGS — ON AN ONGOING BASIS
It’s important to pay attention to these changes and make new evaluations about what is stressful, and how you handle it, while our workplaces and communities adjust. You don’t have to make adjustments all at once. Anderson says after the kind of constant stress we’ve experienced over the last year, these reactions are normal.
FIND COMMON GROUND
Through the pandemic, and as venues reopen, people have different levels of personal safety. When interacting with people who had a different response to the health threat Anderson says it’s important to find common ground. But by the same token, Gold says, it’s also important to set boundaries.
“You build boundaries at some capacity and the level of that boundary is up to you,” Gold said. “You can make boundaries around conversation topics, which is to say, like, I still like that person as a human and I’m not going to completely judge everything I’ve ever known about them my whole entire life or however long you’ve known them based on what they’re doing right now.”
HAVE MORE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
Gold says conversations about mental health need to happen more often and be less under the surface. And instead of trying to go back to “normal” we need to process what has happened during the pandemic and more forward.
“I think that we will be in a place where all of us will be in a better, more healthy place if we can talk about things, including our feelings, out loud,” said Gold.
Watch the full conversation on mental health and advice as states continue to reopen here.