Dear Vicki,

I’ve been double-vaccinated and feeling grateful and relieved. Yet, I’m nearly immobilized by wondering how to pick up the pieces of my life that have been shut down for more than a year. I’ve lost a good friend to the virus, other friendships have ebbed during the quarantine, the travel I hoped to enjoy in retirement is still impossible and my plans to volunteer sound unrewarding to me. The deep anxiety of COVID may have eased but in its place I feel an emptiness and almost a low-level of the blues. I want to get back in the swing of things but, at the same time, something is holding me back.

Ready, set & go in a post-vaccine world

Your feelings are not uncommon or unexpected. As a worldwide community, we are starting to stick our heads out of the cave after a long and dark hibernation and the glare of new possibilities can seem daunting and confusing after such a time. I think there is also an underlying anxiety because we want to believe the danger is receding but we’re not sure what to trust among the mixed messages from news and public health sources. We are grieving all that has been lost both in a larger societal sense and in a more individual and personal manner as well. Treat yourself with compassion!

My advice is the same as it would be for any time of transition. We’re in the hallway of getting back to whatever we define as normal. We’re not there yet. Hallways are a time of letting go of what was and of grieving those losses. Hallways are also a time of watching, evaluating and preparing for a new future. Hallways can be a time of feeling unsettled and anxious simply because we recognize that a change is on its way. Be gentle and accepting of your feelings of disquiet, uncertainty and even of reluctance to reengage. Maybe what is holding you back is your innate wisdom telling you to move slowly, just like it is wise to do after any major upheaval. 

Give some thought about what you want and need in the rooms of your life that you are about to reenter. The pandemic has forced us to stop. Don’t let this opportunity for a personal reset pass by without reviewing what works and what doesn’t work so well in your life. Coming out of the pandemic, consider your physical, emotional, financial and spiritual well-being. Are there lessons you’ve learned as a result of this past year? What changes do you wish to make? Perhaps you’ve discovered that a couple of close friends are more important than a wider social life. Maybe your lessened wardrobe needs call for a major overhaul and donation project. Instead of volunteering for three different organizations, it may be that you wish to concentrate your efforts in one area that is personally meaningful. You may have learned to enjoy your own company and realize that alone-time needs a prominent place in your post-pandemic life.

As a society, life won’t go back to being just the same and it’s probable that our individual paths will follow the same pattern. Be patient in the hallway. Learn to appreciate the indecision and allow yourself the time to decide what’s next. 

Dear Vicki,

Even though the COVID infection rates are decreasing, and my husband and I are vaccinated, I remain on edge and super reactive to every bit of COVID news that comes out. How do I let my guard down and learn to relax again?

Post-pandemic jitters

Begin by limiting your access to unlimited sources of information. If you submerge yourself in too much conflicting news, you will drown in it. Feeding an anxiety only makes it worse. It’s fine to stay informed—to a point—but avoid following every story and each line of questioning.

Realize that we — as a community of human beings — have been through a significant trauma. I won’t recount all the various losses because to reiterate them here is redundant and may be retraumatizing. The wounds are so fresh that no reminders are needed. After such a prolonged and significant period of loss, psychological recovery will take time. Like any trauma, our nervous systems have been affected and may be on edge for some time to come. Our first, simple head cold post-COVID may send us into a tizzy. Being in a crowd will be unnerving. We will cling to what kept us safe and what got us through the past months. Calming the over-disturbed nervous system doesn’t happen overnight.

What can you do to hasten the healing beyond avoiding retriggering your anxiety with too much information? Meditation and prayer are always advised. Physical activity — even a brisk walk — helps us let go of stress. Pay attention to your self-talk. When you start to dwell on your fears, change the channel in your mind. Listen to music. Bake cookies. Take up a hobby where you do something with your hands. Get out of your own head because that is where your fears reside. Breathe deeply. Give thanks. 

Some of us are more prone to worry than others but take heart by knowing you have a lot of company. All of us are emerging from the same plight. We all have some adjusting to do. Allow yourself the time to adjust. But if your anxiety feels unmanageable or lingers too long, consult with a medical professional for some additional help. 

Vicki Duncan is a licensed professional counselor and welcomes your questions. She can be reached at [email protected]

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