It feels like just yesterday we were told we would be working and studying from home for what was supposed to be two weeks. Those two weeks quickly turned into a year. A year that has had a global impact that has created difficulties for many, if not all of us. From feelings of anxiety and loss due to COVID, to anger and pain due to the racial injustices and police brutality, to feeling lonely at home separated from family and friends, to burnout navigating work and/or school boundaries from home. With all the challenges we have faced during the past year, we have made it here – together.
So, what’s next? With many places already reopening and more places to reopen soon, you may find yourself feeling a medley of emotions. I know I do. Excited, anxious, scared, hopeful – you name it, I’ve probably felt it. While reopening may give many of us hope for a “return to normal,” we may also find ourselves feeling anxious and worried. I’m here to tell you that’s okay and you’re not alone. We have endured a lot of changes and trauma this past year, so this medley of emotions is valid.
It can be difficult to adjust to life changes, even positive ones. Life changes activate the conflict sensors in our brain, which then causes brain chaos that we call cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is mental discomfort that comes from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. This conflict leads to increased levels of stress. That stress may show up as restlessness, worried thoughts, stomach aches, anger, increased heart rate, etc. Our body does a great job of communicating with us – we just have to listen.
Below are five ways we can utilize to manage and take control of our anxiety as we maneuver this life change of reopening:
- Go at your own pace
We all have different levels of comfort when it comes to reopening after COVID-19. Maybe you’re ready to dive in headfirst and enjoy everything you’ve missed like restaurants, shopping, etc. Maybe you’re hesitant to fully jump in as the world reopens. Maybe you’re terrified and don’t feel ready. Whatever your comfort level is, that’s okay. Take your time and set your boundaries. “I’m sorry, I can’t because I’m not comfortable” is a perfect way to set that boundary.
- Focus on what is in your control
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there is so much out of our control. This can lead many of us to feel powerless. However, when we shift our focus to things in our control, we regain that power. Things we can control include what time we sleep and how much we sleep, what we eat to nourish our body, our thoughts, how we choose to take care of ourselves, how we move our bodies, how we choose to take care of our physical and mental health. Focus on the things you can control, and you will find more peace and tranquility.
- Do things you enjoy
In the therapy world, we call this “self-care.” Basically, take care of yourself and do things that fill your cup. For me, what that looks like is working out, baking, cooking, listening to music, and spending time with family and friends. To others, it may mean reading, drawing, watching Netflix, playing games, etc. Whatever brings you joy, do more of it. The more you do to fill your own cup, the happier you will feel, and the more you will be able to give to others.
- Connect with others
Isolation and withdrawal exacerbate anxiety and depression, while community and connection ease them. Reach out to family and friends in ways that you feel comfortable. Maybe that’s still via FaceTime, maybe it’s 6 feet apart in person, or maybe that’s out at restaurants. However you feel safest, connect with those who bring you joy and help you feel safe. Connection allows us to feel supported and prevents us from feeling alone during these challenging times.
- Be kind to yourself
We have lived through some traumatic stuff this past year – COVID-19, police brutality, working from home, learning remotely, loss, unemployment, etc. It’s okay that you don’t have it all together. It’s okay to be sad, angry or anxious. It’s okay to be struggling. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling and then take steps to cope. You are human. You have survived every difficult day you have faced. You are strong.
Jennifer Aceves, AMFT, is a Clinical Therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about working with and supporting Latino families. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2019, Jen Aceves worked with couples, adults and children as a Clinical Therapist at another non-profit. Jen Aceves earned a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at University of Southern California.