If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the past fifteen months dreaming about the day when we could gather safely with loved ones and return to some semblance of normalcy. But for many, the idea of re-integrating into life post-vaccination brings more than just excitement; it also brings anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and discomfort.
During the length of the pandemic, we have been consistently told that being around other people is dangerous. Even though the CDC guidelines have changed to include more activities that vaccinated folks can do safely, many people find themselves still feeling anxious. That’s a normal response! We’re not robots, so we can’t flip a switch and suddenly rewire the information that we learned from the past year. If you find yourself feeling anxious or scared about life post-vaccination, you’re not alone. It might help to approach this transition gradually and to give yourself time to adjust.
When I’m working with people who struggle with anxiety, OCD, or phobias, I often integrate components of exposure therapy into my work. Exposure therapy is the practice of gradually exposing someone to their feared situation so that they can overcome the fear over time. And it works! So, here are some tenants from exposure therapy that may help you to approach the transition into life post-vaccination:
Create a hierarchy of what causes you anxiety. Start at the bottom with the things that cause the least anxiety and work your way to the situation that would cause the most anxiety. Maybe walking outdoors without a mask would be at the bottom of your hierarchy and dancing in a crowded club with strangers would be at the top.
Work through your hierarchy slowly. Give yourself some time to adjust to the small transitions before forcing your way to the tougher stuff. You don’t want to flood yourself by approaching the situation that causes the most anxiety too quickly. That would only create more anxiety for it.
Ground yourself in facts. It’s normal to have a difficult time trusting that we can safely return to activities, but that’s what the science shows. I recommend reading the CDC guidelines (linked above) if you are having doubts about the return to safety.
Just as the transition into the pandemic was an adjustment, the transition out of it will be too. But humans are so adjustable. In fact, you may have adjusted so well that it’s hard to change! That’s a sign that you’ll be able to adjust back to life post-vaccination just as well.
Bethany Kriegel, LMHC, earned her master’s degree in mental health counseling from Boston College. She has experience working with adults in residential treatment settings, helping those struggling with eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among other issues.
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