Managing Post-Pandemic Anxiety

While some might be excited at the idea of life returning to "normal", others may feel anxious about change. Therapist Eric Burnet shares strategies to cope.

After more than a year spent confined to our homes and communicating through screens (unless six feet apart), it might come as a relief that life is closer to returning to some level of ‘normalcy.’ The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination is well on its way and lockdown measures are loosening. In the US, regulations around mask-wearing outdoors are already shifting while in some provinces indoor restaurant dining – with volume restrictions – is back on the table.

However and whenever it happens in your area, life will gradually start to look more like it did pre-pandemic. But while some might be filled with excitement at the thought of attending large gatherings again or being able to fly to new destinations – for others, the idea of a “return to normal” may bring up some feelings of anxiety.

“After spending a year glued to the news and assessing real threats, the parts of our brain that detect risk have become hyperactive,” says Inkblot Therapist Eric Burnet. “Our threat awareness levels have been heightened over the past year.”

As a result of this, we may react with some apprehension at the idea of lockdown procedures loosening. With all the change that comes along with post-pandemic life, Burnet says that “it may be jarring to instantly return to life as we knew it. This is entirely normal, he notes. “Humans adapt to their environment and our environment has been completely different for the past year.”

According to Burnet, there are a wide array of worries that we may have about returning to ‘normal’ life, ranging from the practical to the social aspects of our lives. “Individuals may be worried about what is safe and whether the information they are receiving is accurate. This bleeds into the social aspect where we may be overly concerned about what our neighbours think of us, if for example, we were to have friends over,” he says. “As humans, when we feel we are transgressing rules, we become very aware of how we are perceived by those around us.”

In addition, over the past year, many of us may have become comfortable being alone and finding activities to do in our own spaces. “As things begin to open up, we may be feeling worried about all the old activities that we are expected to be comfortable doing. We may not be ready for these changes all at once,” says Burnet. “Some individuals may have also seen their lives improve in some aspects and be feeling protective of these changes.”

As lockdown procedures continue to loosen and we begin finding ourselves invited to more in-person activities, Burnet offers some advice on how we can manage our anxieties through yet another big transition.

  1. Take it slow. Keep checking in with yourself. “We’ve adapted to a certain situation for a year and we may have different emotional reactions to engaging socially and picking up old activities,” says Burnet. Given that, he suggests taking time for yourself and paying attention to how bringing things back into your life affects your mood or energy levels.”If someone said that their town was opening up and that they wanted to go to a bar every night, I would suggest that they go once and then see how they feel afterwards,” he says. If you feel anxious about an old activity, Burnet suggests trying it once and checking in with yourself to see how it has affected you. You may find that you need to take it slow and that you need more time to adjust.
  2. Decide what is important to you. Create a list of your values and rank them in a hierarchy. For example, some may place health and safety at the top of their list, but others may value social connections more. Everyone has a different hierarchy of values and knowing yours can help you make better decisions for yourself. “When we are faced with many options and are unsure what to do, we can make value-guided decisions when we know what is important to us,” says Burnet. In doing so, “we can remember that we don’t need to justify our values and we can make the decisions that are best for us.”
  3. Respect boundaries. Set your own boundaries, respect them, and respect the boundaries that others have set for themselves.“You are entitled to set the limits on the conversations and activities you are comfortable doing. And others can set limits too,” says Burnet. For example, he explains, you may value social connection very highly, but a friend values health and safety more. In that case, it would be important to respect your friend’s decision not to attend a gathering, just as they should respect your choice to engage in the social activities you desire.
  4. Embrace what is worth keeping. Notice the positives that came out of lockdown and embrace the changes that have benefited you; such as reading more or setting more time aside for yourself. “Most people will want to regain some things, post-pandemic, but others may reflect on how their lives have changed and keep pieces of that. And that’s okay,” says Burnet. “We don’t have to buy into the narrative that everything must go back exactly to how things were.”
  5. Forgive yourselves and others in advance for the awkwardness. Like any skill, social skills can get rusty without practice. Burnet gives the example of trying to play a sport again after a year of sitting on the couch. “You will still know how to do it, but you may need some time to adjust and warm up your muscles to it again,” he says. With the transition from virtual to in-person meetings, we may be worried about social cues and behaviour. Burnet encourages us to “embrace the awkwardness and be kind to ourselves as we learn to be together again.”

If you’re feeling anxious or worried about a post-pandemic future and would like to speak with a professional counsellor, Inkblot therapists are here to support you. Reach out to our qualified therapists for an appointment today.


Eric Burnet

Eric Burnet is a social worker and therapist living in Hamilton, Ontario. He has experience working with adults, youth and children dealing with anxiety, depression, work/school issues, relationship issues, parenting and family issues, trauma, and suicidal ideation. Burnet draws heavily from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT), taking influence as needed from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), and Narrative Therapy. He works from a feminist and anti-racist lens. You can connect with him via his referral code: ERICB