Emerging from our COVID cave | Health and Wellness
Last updated 4/20/2022 at 11:12am
Several weeks ago, soon after the mask mandate was lifted by Gov. Jay Inslee, I was having dinner with a dear friend. It was the first time we had seen each other in several months, which was unusual for us.
Before the pandemic began and during that first summer, we continued with our normal routine of texting often and taking walks, masked and distanced.
But somehow all that slowly began to diminish. Our routine became working and coming home to our families and not really interacting with others outside of that routine. During dinner she mentioned that it was difficult coming out of the “COVID cave.”
I realized how correct she was, and how I hadn’t really noticed I was in a “COVID cave.” I didn’t feel that I had particularly been isolated; I went to work, shopped, spent time with immediate family.
Yet, reaching out beyond that circle was difficult, not that I didn’t want to. It just felt as if it took a lot of energy. I was in my cave.
I am a social worker; I know how important relationships are to our overall health. We have all heard how significantly mental health has been impacted by this pandemic. Isolation and having close relationships greatly affect our physical health as well.
A meta-analytic review, which analyzed results of roughly 150 studies, underlines the relationship between loneliness on our health. It found a lack of social integration was more strongly associated with increased risk of death than were factors such as obesity or alcohol consumption.
Getting back into old routines can cause some of us to feel anxious, since our patterns have changed over the last two years. Being in large groups of people can make us nervous. While learning to cope with isolation was/is important, the need to reconnect with family and friends is vital and real.
According to licensed clinical social worker Cynthia Mulder with the Menninger Clinic: “People may experience a type of shock if they try to return to their old schedule. By resetting what we value, we find a new appreciation for what we no longer need and what helps us cope.”
“It’s normal to be nervous or even feel guilty about reconnecting,” said Angela Koreth, a licensed professional counselor-supervisor at Menninger: “Assimilating back into society is like getting into a pool, you either dip your toe into the shallow end or you dive headfirst into the deep end. Once you gauge your comfort level, then you can begin to make healthy choices for your post-pandemic life.”
When we are assessing our comfort level, we can ask ourselves these questions
• What do I want to continue?
• How do I balance my social time and home time?
• What can I do to keep from booking my calendar full and causing increased anxiety?
• How am I going to take care of myself, whether it be time alone, exercise, or massage?
Unfortunately, we do not know when COVID-19 pandemic will end. It is important that we are patient with ourselves and others as we begin to socially reconnect. It is important to know our own comfort levels around social engagement and check in with ourselves to best manage stress and anxiety.
If you find that self-care does not ease your anxiety, it is best to seek help from a counselor.