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Reopening anxiety

By Steve McCann

Let’s take a moment and be honest with ourselves and each other. How do you feel about returning to normal? Of course, there’s many things we’re all looking forward to, like hugging friends and family after months of no contact.

We’re talking about coming to a full stop after 16 months of restrictions. Dining and shopping indoors. Being in close proximity to others without a mask. Being in close proximity to others even if they’re not fully vaccinated. Not to mention the threat of the highly contagious Delta variant.

If scenarios like that make you anxious, you’re not the only one. Samantha Yammine, aka Science Sammy on social media, shares her anxious visit to a coffee shop. She called up a friend to help distract her from the stress of being inside ordering a coffee next to strangers.

It’s completely understandable. 16 months of isolation and distancing will do that to even the most social butterfly. Let’s break down the science behind post-pandemic anxiety, and what we can do to calm our nerves.

Claire Champigny, a York University PhD candidate in developmental psychology says we’ve spent more than a year associating physical distancing and mask wearing to safety. It’s no wonder parting with these measures triggers a feeling of unease.

In fact, a recent survey in the U.S. found that half of all adults are feeling anxious about taking off the mask and getting close to strangers. Similar results were found in other surveys around the continent.

Luckily, there’s a silver lining in all this data. Our anxiety is not here to stay. Our brain has a muscle memory. We’ve trained ourselves to follow restrictions and guidelines, and we can train ourselves to get back to normal, too. Think of it like walking across a field. If you take the same path every day that grass will stop growing, but if you take a different route, eventually that grass will grow back.

Another silver lining is how much mental health has come to the forefront. The pandemic has been tough on everyone, especially those who fell ill or lost a loved one to Covid-19. Prioritizing mental health is a practice we need to continue long after the masks come off. If you’re feeling anxious, you’re not alone. Talk to your friends, start the conversation with family members. Going back to normal will take time, and it’s a journey we can all take together, at whatever pace you’re comfortable with.


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