Business reopening after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted.

How to manage the stress of reopening

We should be dancing in the streets, right?

Millions of people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine every day. Schools and restaurants are reopening. We watch sports events on TV with real people cheering instead of recorded crowd noise. Our old office space beckons with reliable internet and at least physically distanced gossip around the water cooler instead of those herky-jerky virtual gatherings.

More than a year after the pandemic changed everything, we can begin changing back.

So, why do so many of us view the future with at least a little hesitation, if not dread?

“Any kind of change is hard, even good changes,” said Luke Raymond, LCPC, director of Behavioral Health for OSF HealthCare. “You can get so used to things being a certain way that any variance causes some discomfort. We have to cope with that and find a way to adapt. That can be hard.”

Expect things to be different

In a recent survey of American adults by The Harris Poll, 76% said the pandemic permanently changed their priorities in general. Other results revealed stark changes in people’s expectations, even after the pandemic is no longer a threat:

  • 53% said they are less likely to attend a large gathering
  • 45% said they would no longer take public transportation
  • 10% said they would not travel domestically

Maybe you’re comfortable with such lifestyle adjustments. On the other hand, you might think those changes are crazy. Or perhaps you’re uncertain.

As a community, it’s important to recognize that different responses are natural.

“People have different personality types, so we’re going to see a wide range of responses,” Luke said. “We need to have some common humanity and be respectful of other people’s perspectives. We have to understand that we may not agree, but that’s OK.

“You do you, I’ll do me, and we’ll be respectful of each other.”

Focus on gradual change

However, that doesn’t mean every reaction is a healthy one.

An introverted person might enjoy the relative social isolation of the pandemic shutdowns and feel more comfortable with that lifestyle. But they should guard against withdrawing from re-engagement. By contrast, an extroverted person might struggle with work-from-home orders or being unable to socialize. But they should be careful not to overcompensate by reopening with overly aggressive behavior.

“A healthy attitude is to focus on gradual, incremental change,” Luke said. “It’s like we’re toddlers. We need to grow into being teenagers and then adults. It’s important to set realistic goals and be mindful from where we came.

“It’s almost like we’ve come out of sensory deprivation, like solitary confinement, or where you come out of the dark and the light hurts. A gradual exposure, a gradual desensitization, is helpful.”

Practice acceptance, forgiveness, grace

The re-acclimation process can be uncomfortable, “but discomfort leads to growth,” Luke said.

As individual human beings, we need to grow. And we depend on interaction with others to stimulate some of that growth. Similarly, we rely on healthy interaction with each other to grow and thrive as a community.

The pandemic has affected everyone. Some have been affected more than others. The same will be true as we reopen and achieve “normal” – whatever that looks like.

“None of us has been through this before,” Luke said. “To expect anyone to get it exactly right the first time, there’s no way. It’s important for people to set goals and boundaries for themselves, but also give themselves some leeway.

“And then do the same with others. Remember, some fundamental experiences are shared by everyone: grief, sadness, joy. Part of normalizing is realizing the shared human experience. So practice acceptance. Practice forgiveness and grace. Some people may need more time to figure out their situation. Give them leeway. And avoid negative thinking.”

If you struggle or have doubts, use your computer or mobile device to access OSF SilverCloud, a free app to help you manage your feelings of depression, anxiety or stress. Or see an OSF HealthCare primary care provider.

Mind your physical health, too

Remember, even as our community institutions reopen, COVID-19 is still infectious.

Do your part to protect yourself and others. Get vaccinated.

About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: COVID-19, Mental Health