After more than a year, COVID-19 infections rates are down and the number of those vaccinated continues to rise. Things are starting to open up.
Back to normal was something we all dreamed about, month after month. And now? For some, the FOMO (fear of missing out) experienced before the pandemic has been replaced with FONO (fear of normal). This can range from a continued fear of infection as offices, schools, and public locations open up, to being stressed about how to resume socialization with those outside your household and exiting your COVID cave of safety. People have been expressing their FONO on social media and the subject was addressed in a recent Today show report, in which psychologist Deborah Serani shared, “This is a global example of what’s called re-entry after trauma.”
With that in mind, as we inch towards a new normal, a first good step is recognizing that the pandemic is a traumatic event we collectively experienced. Then, we can take extra care to address our needs.
Below, find everyday stress-reducing tips that will also help us cope during this unique time, as we approach re-entry into an opened up world. Above all else, try to remind yourself that you’re not alone in this. With a global pandemic, every one of us is impacted.
Recognize and address your mental health challenges.
We know from surveys and studies that the pandemic has impacted our collective behavioral health. A study conducted in June 2020 revealed that “40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).” For some, a return to “normal” might mean addressing those mental health challenges that arose during the pandemic. If you have a therapist and/or psychiatrist, continue to talk about how you are doing. If you have recently developed stress and/or newly struggling with your mental health, check in with your primary care doctor and reach out for help.
Observe and accept how you feel.
When you are stressed, fearful, or uncomfortable, pause to think about what you are feeling and consider what is triggering you. Maybe talking to a friend about making plans to go to the movies is making your stomach tighten or looking online for flights to see family after more than a year is making your head spin. When you recognize how you are feeling and what is triggering you, you can pause to take a break and focus on addressing the problem.
Go at your own pace and set your own boundaries.
Not ready for normal socializing? You can keep it simple: “I’m not ready for that right now.” “Thanks for the invitation. Maybe another time soon?”
When you’re stressed, the idea of meditating might seem impossible, but we know it can work. Deep breathing, meditation, and mindful practices can train our brain to better manage stress. If you are new to mindfulness, consider apps such as Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace and UCLA Mindful.
Moving your body is one of the best stress-reducing activities. Making time to walk or run outside, bike, dance, or practice yoga might be just what you need to find calm. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health. More on exercise benefits.
Set aside time for yourself.
Schedule something that engages you or makes you feel rested or happy. It might be reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music, taking a bath, or walking your dog around the neighborhood.
Junk food might feel good in the moment, but the lasting effects are not worth it. Eating unprocessed foods is best. Choosing a diet with whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is good for a healthy body and mind. Eating well and staying hydrated can also help stabilize your mood.
Get enough sleep.
Our bodies and minds need rest to function properly. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep. (Learn more about getting good sleep for better mental health.)
Avoid alcohol and drugs.
Alcohol and recreational drugs don’t actually reduce stress: in fact, consuming intoxicants can often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.
Spend time in nature.
Studies show that time in nature reduces stress. Something as simple as tending to a garden or house plants or walking through a park can help calm you. (Learn more about the mental health benefits of nature.)
If you’re feeling anxious, try this grounding exercise: pause to name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
Be kind to yourself.
Talk to yourself and treat yourself as you would a friend. And remembering that this is a global pandemic that has impacted all of us might make you feel less critical about how you feel.
You don’t have to suffer alone. Reach out to your network for support, whether it’s a friend, family member, a therapist, faith leader or a support group. It’s true that we are stronger together and opening up to talk about what we’re feeling and thinking can help. If you live with a mental health condition or have a family member with a mental health condition, consider attending a free support group provided by your local NAMI California affiliate. (Note: during the pandemic, support groups are not being held in person and many affiliates are offering virtual support with calls or video-conferencing options. If you have a friend from a support group, consider reaching out to get and offer support by phone.) If you are experiencing a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
Keep up or seek therapy. If the steps you’ve taken aren’t working, it may be time to share with your mental health professional. They can help you pinpoint specific events that trigger you and help you create an action plan to change them.
More on the subject:
California Surgeon General’s Stress Relief Playbook