Experts: ‘The reopening of anxiety’ is real, widespread and predictable | Chicago News
As of this Friday, Chicago and the state of Illinois will fully reopen, although some masking requirements will remain, at least for now.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, businesses, including entertainment venues and restaurants, will be able to operate at full capacity. It’s a day that many people have been waiting for a long time, but if you feel anxiety about returning to something like normal, you are not alone.
Experts say so-called “reopening anxiety” is real, widespread and predictable.
Dr Aderonke O Bamgbose Pederson, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern Medicine, says some anxiety is natural.
Below is a Q&A with O Bamgbose Pederson, edited for length and clarity.
Given that so many people have been eagerly awaiting the end of the pandemic for so long, why could reopening and returning to normalcy trigger anxiety?
I think the first thing we need to consider is how long we have been in a state of heightened awareness of our environment, our decisions, in terms of socialization, but also in terms of our workspaces and where and how we ‘ve worked. It’s been 15 months from one directive to another. I’ve been trying to pay attention to the CDC’s next recommendation for 15 months. And we had to readjust our way of life.
The livelihoods of some peoples have changed. So, even though we are all waiting and preparing for this time to return to normal, it is only natural for our bodies to tell us that this is a lot for many of us to take. Granted, for some people it can be a smooth transition, but overall for a lot of people it will be a process. And it’s important that we take it as a process because we didn’t get to this point overnight. We got here after 15 long, exhausting, traumatic and painful months.
What are the issues that cause people the most stress? A return to work in person? Are you traveling by public transport? What do people find most stressful about getting back to normal?
There is certainly some uncertainty as to what exactly a return to normal looks like. I think we got used to new routines and so now we need to find another set of new routines. After a period of 15 months of readjusting and finding new ways of doing things, whether it’s your commute to work, the way you interact with people and the way you socialize with them people in the workspace, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to just go back to doing things exactly the way we did in 2019.
Many companies are taking action to address the fact that while many people are vaccinated, there is still such apprehension that COVID-19 is not being eliminated, it is simply under control in some ways. And now we can come back to a certain sense of normalcy, what this means in practice varies in the minds of different people. There are some things that are out of our control, and I think the lack of control and the feelings of uncertainty … the feeling of not being quite sure what (a return to normal) will be like for me and my family, for my kids.
We don’t have a playbook telling us that’s exactly what the next few months will be like. It seems to me that it’s only natural that there is a certain level of anxiety when there is some uncertainty and we don’t know exactly what things are going to look like, even though we do know that with the vaccine, things are going to be a lot better.
What are some of the ways stress affects the body? What symptoms can people experience? For example, can emotional and physical fatigue be a sign of stress?
For anxiety, the symptoms can sometimes be physical. People may have gastrointestinal or abdominal discomfort, upset stomach, headache, and just feel like your thoughts are spinning in circles. You worry a lot more. You might feel an increased awareness when you are simply more aware of your surroundings and what is going on around you and you are not so relaxed. There may be a feeling of restlessness. All of these tend to be symptoms of anxiety in general.
Any of these feelings, both physical and psychological, can be present in our body. And even when we are unaware of our anxiety, things like fatigue or restlessness, and feelings of not being relaxed in spaces and situations where you would normally be relaxed could be signs of anxiety. the pandemic.
The pandemic has not affected everyone in the same way. We know there have been disproportionate impacts on black and brown communities. Does this also manifest itself now in terms of reopening anxiety or more broadly in terms of the level of stress that people in these communities are under?
With any type of trauma, people will react differently, even if there is the same trauma. As for the past year and the double pandemic – the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of racism and the social conscience that goes with it and hopefully stays with us – black and brown communities have certainly suffered. the brunt of the impact and suffered a disproportionate impact from COVID-19.
As we pick up the pieces of society, it’s important to acknowledge CDC research that shows people in black and brown communities were three to four times more likely to be hospitalized and were twice as likely in many cases. to die from COVID-19. Without a doubt, as we come out of the pandemic, we take that data and look at it in the way we move forward.
I don’t have answers on what exactly this will look like for each community. We are not only coming out of a pandemic unscathed. We come out of it and into what I would consider the resumption of the process, and so we have to be mindful of the needs of disadvantaged communities because of the impact, in terms of health care directly, but also in terms of the economic impact on black and brown communities.
What would you recommend to people to help them cope with their anxiety? When might someone need to seek professional help?
It’s important to think about anxiety, stress, feeling more tired than normal on a spectrum, just like we think about our physical health. There are times when you can get a little cold, but when it becomes a fever and it affects your ability to function, you definitely need to get help. I think it’s very similar to apply this idea to your sanity.
When mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or emotional distress get to a point where you notice they are affecting your day-to-day life, now is the time to get help. That’s not to say you shouldn’t get help sooner because we want to be proactive in our approach.
How would you recommend that employers treat workers who might be reluctant to return to work in person? What is the best way for them to take care of their employees?
I think I have a culture where people feel safe to talk about their emotional well-being and psychological well-being. If someone says, “I can’t do something because I recently had a heart attack, or I can’t do something because I have diabetes, I can’t participate in this activity to help me. such and such a reason ”, it’s OK to respond kindly to that and adapt.
But I think because of the stigma surrounding mental health, we are much more hesitant when our employees or colleagues sound the alarm bells and say that this is going to be very painful for me. For employers and organizations, I think it’s important to develop a culture where people don’t wait for things to be to extremes to express their concern. And not to shame people or make them feel like they’re expressing weakness, but in many ways they express strength by showing up and sharing something that might not be the most popular thing. to share.
Almost no one has been spared by the pandemic and the stress and anxiety it has brought on. Could one of the good things that could potentially emerge from the pandemic be increased awareness of mental health issues and greater empathy and understanding for people who may be struggling with mental health issues? Could this help remove some of the stigma that has surrounded mental health for so long?
I hope. I think sometimes our memory is not excellent. The question then is in a year, in five years, do we keep that empathy? At the start of the pandemic, there were stories of people with social anxiety and how the pandemic itself has brought some level of comfort to some people.
When it comes to mental health care in general, there has certainly been a lot more conversation, which is great and positive as it is the only way to move forward so that we can recover well. as a community and as a society. I hope this will continue to be on the forefront of our minds as I don’t see how we can properly recover as a society (without it).
When people go through trauma, whether it’s at the community or individual level, when we ignore it, when we try to cover it up, and when we don’t deal with and address it, it manifests under other forms: increased risk of depression, increased risk of anxiety and burnout. I think it’s good that we’re talking about mental health. But I think it’s even more important that we continue to focus on our psychological well-being as we move forward.