With the emergence of COVID-19 came a massive change to our lives as we were forced to adapt to a “new normal” – and then another and another. We did this with the promise of returning to the old normal always on the horizon, it was all just going to be a quick break from our regularly scheduled program. Now, over a year later, with the return of a pre-pandemic normal approaching, it seems that this final (fingers crossed!) change may feel like just another in a long list of changes we have had to adapt to. Despite the yearning for socialization, dreams of vacations, countdowns to vaccinations, and plans made for a time yet to be determined, our “new normal” may have taken root and might not be as easy to shake as we would have hoped. After one of the longest and most stringent years the world has seen, this month we have begun to emerge from many virus restrictions. While some areas of the country have made several unsuccessful attempts to reopen over the past year, Colorado has taken a slower approach, which gives us widespread hope. After months of tough restrictions, Colorado consistently has one of the lowest infection rates in the country and has allowed counties to reopen on different timelines. This can create worry as some counties are allowing businesses in their area to open too quickly while other counties are lifting restrictions gradually. While the virus is very much still out there, we now have something new to think about, how do we be with people again? Going forward it is important that we show ourselves and others compassion as we make the adjustment and implement some valuable tools to adapt to yet another change.
It is possible that during the isolation and slowed pace of life over the last year you have learned a thing or two about yourself. Many people learned just how important random conversations with strangers are to their mental health. Just as many people probably realized that home truly is where their heart is. Either of these, a combination of the two, or any number of other revelations you had about yourself, are all ok! It is unlikely that returning to pre-pandemic life will look like it did pre-2020. As an individual, it is up to you to you to choose what it will look like for you. For many, that choice may be difficult to make. A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that Nearly half of Americans (49%) said they feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends. Adults who received a COVID-19 vaccine were just as likely as those who have not received a vaccine to say this (48% vs. 49%, respectively). If you find yourself in that 49%, I hope you can find comfort in the fact that you are not alone. If you are feeling uneasy about returning to the outside world, here are some tips to help:
- Be up front about your comfort level. If you do not feel comfortable accepting an invite out with friends or family you don’t need to just say no and hide away, be honest about what your reservations are and perhaps the plans can be changed to meet you where you are comfortable.
- Keep what has worked. Jenny TeGrotenhuis, a licensed mental health counselor, says that some people’s slower lifestyles during the pandemic may have given them a chance to take stock of what is important. She is working with her clients to determine if they can avoid returning to things that felt stressful, while meanwhile keeping the rhythms that have felt good.
- Take small steps. Go at your own pace but do make efforts to resume your normal social activities. Because everyone is figuring out what the “new normal” looks like at the same time, if you try something and it does not work, or feel right to you, try something different.
- Create your own closure. “Commemorating the end of something allows our brains to make sense of it,” says Amanda E. White, a counselor and founder of the Therapy for Women Center. The pandemic is not going to just end, there will be no announcement. Planning a way to create your own closure may make it easier to adapt to the changes ahead.
- Show kindness to yourself and to others — It is not very often that you can have a shared experience with everyone you encounter, but just because we have all been in this together does not mean that we have all had the same experiences throughout. Support each other through this process and leave behind any notion of keeping up with the Jones’s. The best that you can do is enough.
After months of isolation, people are unsure if they remembered how to be with others. Anxiety is running high when the thought of what to wear or how to interact comes up, our normal PJs or sweats are not going to cut it in public and it has been so long since we talked with someone new. Many people are still hopeful that they will not have to choose between safety and society for much longer. As usual, we at The Arc Arapahoe & Douglas Counties want to do all that we can do to help make this transition as easy as possible for the individuals we serve and their families. As the world begins to open around you, please know that we continue to be a safe place for you. Over the last year we have continued to advocate, educate, and entertain with zero face to face contact and we have no intention of opening and removing these options. As we step slowly out of our homes and into restaurants, group events, hair salons and more, we hope The Arc Arapahoe & Douglas Counties is on your list as we begin, hopefully soon, to open up again. Time will tell, but we will adapt to this change, and are here to support you in doing so too.
Written by Kelly Lawler and Luke Wheeland