We’ve passed June 30, and the majority of COVID-19 restrictions around businesses and activities, which have been in place in some form for more than a year, have lifted.
People are adjusting to another “new normal” during the COVID pandemic. It can be overwhelming at times. We’re not all diving into the reopening at the same pace, and that’s OK.
The option to return to many pre-pandemic activities – festivals and shows, larger get-togethers with loved ones, restaurants and other businesses open at full capacity – is exciting.
However, we must remember that COVID is not gone. People can help protect the community by keeping up-to-date on reliable information and sticking with the disease prevention tools we’ve been relying on. And yes, we’re going to reiterate them here: get your COVID vaccine if you haven’t already; mask up if you’re indoors and unvaccinated or if you’re in any space that requires masks; be respectful of distance from others (even if it’s not a firm requirement of six feet anymore); wash your hands thoroughly and often; and stay home if you are not feeling well.
It’s not just the physical health measures we need to keep in mind following the statewide reopening date. Because the reopening was close to the Fourth of July holiday and what, for many of us, is the kick-off to summer, we’re able to socialize and reconnect during a season that is already a popular time for gatherings. As these interactions increase, it can be easy to feel like the pandemic is done, even though it isn’t.
There’s a mix of emotions that can come with these changes. As the Washington State Department of Health noted in a recent advisory to healthcare providers, people’s desires to have fun, have a sense of freedom, and let out strong emotions have been building for more than a year. This can lead to behavioral health impacts. As you make plans and reengage with more of the community, watch yourself and your loved ones for behaviors such as:
- Trouble managing emotions
- Tense interactions around strongly-held beliefs regarding COVID, vaccination, masking, and reopening
- Becoming overwhelmed by an increase in social interaction and group settings
Be prepared with strategies to help manage strong emotions.
First, avoid impulsive decisions. Take time to think through significant decisions such as a change of job, relocating, or a major purchase. Don’t make big decisions or take risks when substance use is involved, including when you are using alcohol or marijuana.
Also, when interacting with others, try to pause for 30 seconds before responding to give your brain time to process and respond in a logical, less impulsive manner. Don’t be afraid to take a long breath in and out whenever needed, or to step away from a situation or conversation that is overwhelming.
Changes in the brain, which influence the way we feel, are a normal response to disasters. During disaster and recovery, the brain doesn’t process mood- and pleasure-associated chemicals like dopamine and serotonin as effectively as it does during normal times because people are under tremendous stress. This can increase feelings of unhappiness and encourage pleasure-seeking behavior in an effort to find emotional balance. Some of the ways people cope are healthy or at least harmless – getting a massage, taking a trip to your favorite local getaway, binging your new favorite show. A number of pleasure-seeking behaviors, though, can be dangerous. This could include risky sexual interactions, substance use, gambling and impulsive spending, or reckless driving.
In social settings after so long without large-group interactions, people may also feel more inclined to let down inhibitions. At the same time, they may be more likely to misunderstand social cues or disagree on social norms. This can cause discomfort, anxiety, awkwardness and sometimes aggression.
Be aware that your own emotions may be intense, and plan for how you will manage them. Take time to consider the consequences of your words and actions. Be aware of those you are with and ready to give them space if needed.
Respect, compassion and time are key. Take advantage of the summer to reconnect with people and activities you have sorely missed, all while taking an honest inventory of how you are feeling and reacting. Remember that even people you care about deeply may not agree with you or be ready to engage in the same activities you are eager to resume. Allow them – and yourself – time to adjust and time to heal.
While stressful and anxious feelings are normal during this time, it is not normal when they escalate to thoughts or plans for harming yourself. If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can reach the crisis chat line by calling 800-584-3578 or going to www.imhurting.org.
Your emotional wellbeing contributes to the wellness of others in your life, and to your community as a whole. You deserve the time and understanding to adjust to this next “new normal” at your pace. You matter.
Even if you are not in immediate crisis but need to talk, resources are available. Some additional support and crisis resources include:
- WA Listens, a free, anonymous service for anyone in the state who feels sad, anxious or stressed: Call or text 1-833-681-0211
- Veteran Suicide Prevention, a free resource for veterans and those who care for them: Call 800-273-8255 and select “1” or text 838255
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a resource to learn about suicide prevention and connect if you are in crisis: Call 800-273-8255 or text “TALK” to 741741.
- The Trevor Project, providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people under 25: Call 866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678-678.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a resource for information about mental health conditions: Text “NAMI” to 741-741 or Call 800-950-6264.