With COVID-19 infection rates dropping and the world opening back up, it’s finally starting to feel like the pandemic that kept us inside for the better part of two years is in the review mirror. While getting back to normal was something we all dreamed about for so long, a new acronym has popped up – FONO (fear of normal).
The behaviors we adopted during the pandemic, and of course, the pandemic itself, have affected our mental health. The Stockholm Syndrome we developed with COVID in the comfort of our caves is real, making it somewhat difficult to operate in a social society again. Psychologists refer to this as “re-entry after trauma,” as we all try to adjust to a new normal while trying to remember what it was like in the old one pre-pandemic.
The first step is recognizing that the pandemic was indeed traumatic and that we must give some care to our mental health. With that in mind, we’ve collected some key considerations to help deal with post-COVID mental health issues below.
Recognizing your Mental Health Challenges
There is no question that our collective behavioral health has been affected. One study found that 40.9% of respondents had at least one adverse mental health condition, including symptoms of anxiety, trauma, or increased substance use to cope with stress or related to COVID-19. Step number one is recognizing and addressing mental health challenges that arose during the pandemic, possibly for the first time.
If you have a therapist, continue to talk about this or reach out to your network for support. Help is always available, no matter how dire the situation may seem.
Go at your Own Pace
There is no race to return to “normal.” It is vital that you make decisions that feel right for you, and this begins with being honest about your limits. If you’re not ready to resume in-person activities, that is fine. Be direct when forming plans with friends and family, and if you are uncomfortable with the idea of socializing, use “I” statements to show that you are making decisions that are mindful of your needs.
Being upfront puts others at ease. In addition, everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, so people will be more understanding than you may at first think.
Always Practice Mindfulness
Meditation is an effective way to reduce stress. Always start slowly by simply breathing in a peaceful location. Deep breathing, meditation, and other mindful practices train your brain to manage stress better. Apps such as Calm, Headspace, or guided meditations on YouTube can greatly help.
Moving your body during exercise (even light exercise) is another great stress-reducing method. Practice yoga or simply take a walk; daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones while improving your overall mental and physical health.
Watch your Diet
We no longer have an excuse to order app delivery junk food every night! Choose a diet with lots of vegetables, fruit, and healthy grains, and stay hydrated to help stabilize your mood. We should reduce highly processed food and alcohol as well, and if you’re struggling with substance abuse, now is the time to seek help. Our bodies and minds rely on decent sleep to function properly. A lack of sleep can trigger many mental health symptoms, so try to get the recommended 7-8 hours per night.
Above all, If you are Struggling, Seek Help
There is no reason to suffer alone, and hope can be found everywhere. Whether through a friend, family member, therapist, or support group, opening up to talk about how we are feeling can help. If you struggle with a mental health condition, consider attending a free support group in your area. If you are experiencing a crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will offer a trained crisis counselor and free, 24/7 crisis support.
If the above methods or any other steps you’ve taken seem as though they aren’t working, speaking with a mental health professional can make all the difference. They will work with you to identify specific events that may be triggers for you, so you can work to create an action plan that will change them and improve your everyday life. Help is always available; you simply just need to ask for it.