Returning to a “Normal” Summer During the Covid-19 Pandemic
Article by Giemaly Soto
Although the Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, more and more Americans are becoming fully vaccinated. Throughout the pandemic, many of us have wanted nothing more than to have our regular schedules back. As the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines continues, a more “normal” summer is anticipated with many states beginning to lift mask mandates and other Covid-19 restrictions. Even so, many children, teens, and families are expressing anxiety and uneasiness around the country reopening.
According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America survey, more than half of respondents reported that they do not feel comfortable returning to their old way of life and feel uneasy about readjusting to in-person interactions post-pandemic. Adults, who are already fully vaccinated, responded similarly to the poll, indicating that this worry about the future is impacting the majority of Americans, regardless of vaccination status.
The anxiety people are experiencing about reopening is largely driven by the uncertainty we have all been facing since March 2020. There have been many questions surrounding the rolling out vaccines, lifting mandates, reopening workplaces, restaurants, schools, and other common places, and, of course, the virus itself and its variants. With each new stage of the pandemic, people have had to constantly readjust and adapt to new norms. This has left many individuals feeling depressed, anxious, exhausted, and burnt out.
Although people have been anxiously awaiting for positive news regarding the return to “normal” life, these feelings have persisted. It is important to note that these emotional reactions are completely valid experiences for children, teens, and families. The Covid-19 pandemic led to sudden losses and unexpected changes, and they continue to occur on an ongoing basis. A little more than a year ago, there was a common narrative floating around that the global pandemic would be over once the summer of 2020 began, but as we know now, that was not the case. We have also all been instructed to avoid social interaction for quite some time, which can contribute to and heighten one’s anxiety. Therefore, it is entirely reasonable for people to feel uneasy or unsure about what to anticipate during this upcoming summer season as well as for the rest of 2021.
So, how can we help people smoothly transition to a “normal” summer while keeping in mind their different levels of comfort? First, it is important to recognize that there will be many “firsts” and they will differ depending on people’s various comfort levels. For example, there will be someone’s first time in someone else’s house while another person might be preparing to take their first plane ride for vacation. It is OK to ask others what they are comfortable with and how things should be done or planned. Asking these types of questions help normalize the anxiety and/or uncertainty we all may be experiencing as we begin to test the waters again. It is also important to remember that these “firsts” may be incredibly uncomfortable or even awkward initially; however, we will begin to feel more and more comfortable as we start to immerse ourselves in our communities again.
Take some time to reflect on your own feelings, boundaries, and limits. As you rejoin your peers in larger gatherings, you may need to process the multiple feelings that come about for you. Allow yourself to feel and identify these emotions and ask yourself what you may need in response. You may realize that you are feeling uncomfortable about walking into a large crowd. You can ask your friend or family how many people will likely be in attendance ahead of time to resolve any uncertainty that’s spurring some anxiety or worry in you. Knowing your boundaries and limits is also critical. Consider what types of environments you are willing to tolerate whether that includes the size of the group you will interact with, if masks being worn is encouraged, or how long you intend on being around others.
As you reflect upon your own feelings, you may also notice that you’re struggling with a lack of closure for everything that’s been lost over the past year. Step back and acknowledge what the pandemic taught you about yourself and what lessons you’ll be taking away from this experience. Maybe you lost some major life events or traditions, your predictable routine, or physical contact with your friends. Then ask yourself what you want it to mean to you and what you want to take out of this before you reenter your community. Maybe you will decide that you want to prioritize spending quality time with your friends before going off to college or creating a self-care routine that you can easily maintain. Giving meaning to what you have lost could ultimately make it a smoother transition into the post-vaccine world.
As we approach post-pandemic times, further adjustments will be needed from us. Each day will be different as we adapt to the new norms. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be beneficial to focus on the silver linings of the pandemic. This can include noticing how resilient we have all demonstrated we truly are, appreciating the little things we are just beginning to be able to do, and validating that these feelings post-pandemic are normal and to be expected as we readjust. Most importantly, be patient with yourself and those around you as the possibility of socializing with our friends and family becomes more real every day that passes.