How can we circumvent this pandemic-related emotional trauma to prepare for a life of relative normalcy again?

Mount St. Joseph University students engaging and talking on campus.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Rates of anxiety and depression among U.S. adults were about four times higher between April 2020 and August 2021 than they were in 2019.” Such skyrocketing statistics are troubling, to say the least, and will hopefully be some of the last remaining darkness overshadowing the light at the end of the tunnel. The end of the pandemic is ostensibly near.

So how can we circumvent this pandemic-related emotional trauma to prepare for a life of relative normalcy again? There are a few ways to navigate this.


  1. Start Small

For some, the trek to stability is a long one. So it is important to take the effort to heal a little at a time. For many, even if anxiety was rare for them before the pandemic, quarantine has only exacerbated mental ailments. And, as Amy Metzger, a registered nurse and Health Services Manager at the Mount, notes, “Continuing to stay isolated doesn’t help the problem, unfortunately.”

It’s key, then, to start getting out again. But in order to make this effort a realistic one, it is best to avoid overcommitting. By re-entering the outside world, we can take it one step at a time to make it manageable. Instead, for instance, of immediately going back to a massive gathering, “Maybe the good first step,” Metzger suggests, “is just watching a game with a couple friends.”


  1. Know Your Limits

On top of the effort to take small steps, it’s also essential to know when to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones. But it requires a delicate balance. It’s probably not the wisest thing, let’s say, to rush into a rich social life again if we’re experiencing any anxiety or discomfort. But it’s also just as unwise not to wade back into the deep waters of normal life at all.

“People have different risk tolerance levels,” says Metzger. “So some folks were socializing right away, whereas other folks are just now starting to go around without a mask and they’re really anxious about that. So I think appreciating and recognizing that everyone has a different level of comfort with risk at this moment is really important and I think that’s important for the individual as well.”

In other words, in understanding that everyone reacclimates at different rates, one can estimate his or her own limits and discern when and how far to push past discomfort.


  1. Readjust to a Routine

One of the most viable ways to begin implementing some of this reacclimation is by recreating a routine and beginning to adapt to it. This is a surefire way to get motivated again and plan out a means to get back into the swing of things. During lockdown, most people had to convert to a work-at-home status out of nowhere, which for many of us included Zoom calls in bed and/or without pants. But now that employment is going back in person, people are once again forced to adapt.

Natalie Bechtol, a medical assistant in the Wellness Center, states that “You have to get back into that whole routine. Start walking, watch what you eat, and make sure you sleep the right amount of hours and everything to stay healthy.” Re-establishing a routine like this can not only help us accept an order of objectives for the day but also help us be mindful of eating and exercising the right amount.


  1. Separate Fear and Risk

In a more intuitive way, we can get accustomed to a potentially COVID-free life and safely exit our comfort zones by recognizing when real risk is present versus its materialization in our apprehension.

There are plenty of people who are still cautious about going out in public areas without masks or social distancing, which is entirely understandable. But it can be helpful to learn how to overcome excessive or irrational fears, at the very least for the purpose of establishing some healthy connections again.

For instance, deciding against going somewhere based on the fact that there may be an unusually large number of people can eventually form an unhealthy habit. To avoid this, we need to ask ourselves if there really is a risk to our health by going out. This would be a good habit to form for nearly every decision one makes.

According to Our World in Data, there have only been 571 COVID cases in Hamilton County between March 15-28, and so, out of over 800,000 people, that means the risk of contracting COVID-19 right now is 0.07%. Therefore, if one understands that the risk is very low, the fear of social situations can be seen for what it may be—irrational.


  1. Join a Club

As cliché as it sounds to advocate for joining a club in college to get involved, it can be more helpful right now than it might initially seem. Clubs on campus tend to be rather small, and usually involve meetings with only a few other members that eventually turn into moderately-sized events and activities.

“We would love to see students more involved on campus and having a more dynamic experience than we’ve had in the last two years,” says Metzger. “And so a club is perfect because that’s a small group usually. That’s a great way to slowly let your network build and still push yourself back out of your comfort zone.”


  1. Leave the House at Least Once a Day

Joining clubs on campus and even simply going to in-person classes alone are just a couple of examples of breaching the ever-so-comfortable zone of idleness. Simultaneously breaking out of isolation and inactivity, just getting out of the house at least once a day can have a positive impact.

“Making yourself go to the store,” Metzger notes, “instead of ordering things online is another [strategy], forcing yourself to leave the house every day, opting not to do meetings over Zoom, trying to get them in person instead and breaking some of those habits.”

With things like Netflix and DoorDash tempting us to remain inside, it’s difficult getting out. But once we step out that door, we will have literally stepped outside of our comfort zones.


  1. Exercise

Directly tied into this recommendation of getting out is getting active. Everyone calls for more exercise, but it is for good reason. The potential benefits are astronomical. It’s just a matter of finding the will and determination to do it.

“Exercise is always a good answer,” Metzger says. “It’s so hard to make yourself do it. But those endorphins that get released from exercise—those feel-good hormones—they help you sleep, they help your thinking, they help your mood. Beyond the physical benefits of exercise, the emotional benefits are huge.”

Of course, with everyone herded inside for the past two years, physical exercise would be beneficial in solving any pandemic-caused weight gain or sedentary behavior. But the emotional byproducts can also provide some of that much-needed desire for improvement and resocialization.


  1. Turn Off the News

In addition to bettering our health, sometimes it might be best to just shut out some of the excessive and nonsensical stories in news media. While it is always important not to be averse to truth, the media can more often than not be a source of unproductive, anxiety-inducing fearmongering. Overuse of the news and social media can therefore be hurtful more than it is helpful.

Bechtol mentions that “With the press and everything it was just sort of scaring people into isolating. I just don’t even watch the news anymore because all you heard was bad things and then you just got worried.” With the rise of increasingly divisive politics, the undying pandemic, and now international war, it’s sometimes best to just turn off the news, at least for the sake of sanity.


  1. Roll with It

Last but not least, probably the best tip for coming out of the pandemic is learning to roll with it. We’ve all been doing this for a long time now, and for some of us, we’ve only been made stronger. But for others, forbearance is waning. But we will adapt—we always have. We will just have to learn and relearn and maintain that resilience. Trouble is not likely to ever go away completely.

“I think there’s going to continue to be that frustration of plans getting broken,” Metzger says, “of not being able to participate in something, of something being canceled that we were really looking forward to and learning to roll with that, learning to roll with all these things we can’t control, trying to roll with it and be flexible and ride through the storm without being crushed by it—that’s really difficult.”

It is difficult but we have endured a lot and we cannot back down now. As survivors of a historical, worldwide event, we will prevail and overcome. It’s only a matter of whether or not we continue to be willing to roll with it. And anything is possible when we’re together.

Being alone right now would only hurt ourselves and one another. So in the spirit of collective recuperation, go out and see a movie at the theaters or go shopping for groceries or spend time with a friend or two. Right now we are at a crossroads between perpetual isolation and togetherness as we once knew it. Let’s salvage that last vestige of fellowship not just for ourselves but for everyone.

“At the end of the day,” Metzger concludes, “I don’t think it’s good for us as humans (to be alone). I think we really need that connectedness to other people—and not just virtual connectedness.”