In 2019, I wrote this piece about being an extroverted introvert. Back then, I found myself toeing the line when it came to my tendencies and preferred ways to socialize. More than two million people read it, so it seemed as if others could relate.
But two years and one pandemic later, and I’ve found myself more on the introverted side of the fence.
Why it matters: The pandemic has changed all of us in some way, whether we picked up a new hobby, strengthened or lost friendships, or got clarity on our future plans.
- These shifts will only become more apparent as the world starts to reopen.
The bright side: The past year has allowed me to adopt a slower-paced lifestyle filled with more intentional connections and commitments. It’s felt like the perfect way to recharge my introvert batteries without getting hit with a case of FOMO at every turn, and I don’t want to immediately jump back into my full-tilt, non-stop schedule.
But, as more of us get vaccinated and normal life is in sight, I’m struggling with mixed feelings.
The state of play: First and foremost, I’m feeling relief on so many levels. That goes without saying.
- I’m feeling excited about getting to enjoy my favorite pre-pandemic activities again: meeting friends on the patio at NoDa Company Store, spontaneously popping into Paper Skyscraper between meetings, date nights out with my husband.
Yes, but: Coupled with my relief and excitement comes anxiety.
- I feel out of practice when it comes to socializing with people I haven’t seen in a while, particularly in large groups. I’ve gotten used to my small “quarantine pod,” and I’m anxious about how I’ll re-develop those socializing muscles.
- I’ve loved not feeling obligated to pack my schedule full until I’m scrambling to play catch-up on Sunday evenings.
There’s also a part of me that wonders if living through a pandemic will leave me permanently focused on health issues. You don’t realize how germy public spaces are until you spend a year obsessing about it, and I wonder if I’ll be able to shut that part of my brain off.
Tips for coping:
If you’re like me and are experiencing a plethora of feelings as we prepare to re-enter the real world, Leah Finch, a licensed clinical mental health counselor and owner of Goldfinch Counseling and Coaching, has some tips:
(1) Know that it’s OK to feel this way: “I think the most helpful thing is an acknowledgment that this is all so normal. It’s not just you. You’re not an anxious person, you’re a person who is experiencing normal and natural worries,” Finch says.
(2) Rely on the coping mechanisms you’ve developed: We’ve all had to find new ways to soothe ourselves during a stressful year, and Finch says it’s important to continue to utilize these strategies as we reacquaint ourselves with our pre-COVID lives.
- “That may be taking a few deep breaths or doing some stretches to calm the body and the mind.”
(3) Don’t focus on eliminating anxiety completely: Unfortunately, if your end goal is to make your anxiety totally disappear forever, you’ll only end up frustrated, Finch says. Everyone faces the occasional bout of anxiety. It’s part of being human.
- But if this anxiety impedes your ability to enjoy life, Finch recommends asking yourself, “Are these thoughts helping or hurting me?'” This can help you identify detrimental patterns so you can get out of that unproductive thought loop.
(4) Mental health isn’t linear: If you’re a person who normally has your anxiety well-managed, finding yourself facing anxious thought patterns again can be discouraging. You might fear that you’re regressing or that your work has gone to waste.
- “Remind yourself that mental health isn’t linear. It’s a journey,” Finch says. “If you’re experiencing symptoms, know that you’re not regressing, you’re just learning how to relate to your anxiety in new ways. You are not your anxiety. It doesn’t have control over you.”
(5) Soak in the moments when you’re feeling good: “The flip side of acknowledging that anxiety is normal is being really mindful of moments where you’re not feeling anxious and allowing yourself to experience that moment. What does your body feel like? What are your sensations?” Finch says.
Cut each other some slack as we head back into the world.
We’ve just been through a collective trauma, and it’s inevitably changed us all in one way or another.
Be patient with yourself and with the people you love as you find your footing and learn how to connect with each other again.