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It’s OK to not be OK: A therapist's guide to “new normal” anxiety


If you think you’re alone in being anxious about “normal” life as restrictions ease, you’re not! For many people, life returning to some semblance of ‘what was’ feels like a daunting task.

There is no singular experience of the global pandemic. For some of us, our lives changed in unalterable ways. Many of us experienced losses we will grieve for years. But even for those of us more on the periphery, we may have anxiety as we start to emerge from life in lockdown.

Certainly, COVID has ushered in a host of uncertainties and tragedies. But it has also provided a sort of respite from the chaos that was life. Many of us started working from home, giving us more time with family and pets (or the opportunity to bring a pet into our life). We were removed from the hassle of our commutes.

Similarly, many of us began enjoying new hobbies. Many folks moved back in with family members and those bonds strengthened. So the thought of being pushed back into a hectic world of rushed mornings, time away from loved ones, and less time to enjoy hobbies aren’t necessarily appealing.

Of course, some of us are anxious because we fell into a sort of ‘COVID slump.’ Many of us began drinking more, eating more and gained weight. We might feel insecure about our bodies now and feel shame about how we spent those months as if our physical selves are going to show the world that we didn’t handle the isolation well.

Others may have social anxiety that was eased when the pressures of being in public were gone. We could enjoy being introverted without the guilt that we weren’t experiencing life in the way that we are supposed to. Social media does present the idea - repetitively - that we are supposed to be enjoying our “best life,” which generally includes photos of people scaling mountains and basking on beaches. Sitting quietly at home with a novel and a cup of tea doesn’t receive nearly the same attention or prestige.

And for still others, we simply feel like we’ve just forgotten how to ‘do people things.’ We may feel anxious just because it’s been a while since we’ve flirted, engaged in small talk, waited in lines, or chatted up people at parties. We worry that we are going to return with a sense of awkwardness, persistently making a social faux pas.

The good news is that this is all normal! Anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just your brain’s way of telling you that something is wrong - which may or may not be true. Anxiety occurs anytime we are doing something new or different, even when it’s a positive. So feeling anxious doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you - it just means your brain is doing its job. But if that anxiety gets overwhelming and starts creeping into your life in such a way that you can’t live life as you want, then it’s a great time to seek professional help. Anxiety is extremely treatable and there are ways to learn to manage it and reduce it.

The other good news is that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. We don’t have to choose between life in 2019 and life in 2020. As life resumes back to normal, we can make conscious choices to blend our new life with our old one. Maybe we negotiate to still work from home some days. Maybe we carve out more time for our new hobbies. Perhaps we intentionally schedule time with family and friends.

Of course, we aren’t there yet. The pandemic is not over. But as we start to emerge from this global tragedy, maybe we can appreciate that COVID taught us a lot. Maybe it taught us how beneficial it is to live life the way we want, to value our time and our relationships more, and that slowing down doesn’t mean stopping.

Maybe it helped us see things about ourselves we want to change and improve. And maybe our anxiety about that is a good thing because it can motivate us to make the changes that we want and to preserve the changes we already appreciate.