Many Americans are apprehensive about returning to their pre-pandemic routines, including going back to work and school. With vaccines rolling out, there might be a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, but for some people, who have been in strict quarantine and isolation, that light can be blinding and scary.
According to the Miami Herald, mental health professionals say people are experiencing social anxiety and fear after months of isolation. And as more states relax mask mandates, many workers fear they will be exposed to COVID-19 especially as the U.S. is seeing an uptick of cases. Those employed in the restaurant business, for example, are fearful that with increased crowds at their eateries, they will have more potential contact with the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, while social distancing and wear masks do help protect people against COVID-19, these public safety measures also trigger stress and anxiety. The CDC says stress can manifest in several ways, including insomnia, anger, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, and worsening of mental and physical problems.
The agency encourages people experiencing stress and anxiety to take breaks from watching or listening to the news, including stories on social media.
"It's good to be informed but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting," says the CDC.
Public health officials recommend exercising and planning relaxing activities to tame stress, says the Herald. Eating and sleeping well are also helpful.
But experts add careful planning and taking baby steps back into the real world can also reduce COVID-19 stress.
"The best thing you can do for yourself is practice self-compassion," said Dr. Charmain Jackman, a Harvard-trained psychologist and founder of InnoPsych. "Be kind to yourself if you find going out increases your anxiety."
Other mental health experts advise going slowly as you rejoin the social world. Start by meeting one friend for lunch, for example, or take a solo trip shopping. But wear your mask, advises the CDC, adding, even those who are vaccinated should continue to observe public safety measures for their sake and the safety of others.
The agency adds, if your stress continues to escalate and interferes with daily life, it is time to call your doctor or a mental health care professional, says the Herald. The CDC lists free and confidential resources to help you find the appropriate treatment.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) acknowledges the pervasive climate of anxiety, stress and isolation caused by COVID-19 is harmful to mental health and offers more tips on their website.
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