Those Who Thrived During the Pandemic Might Feel Anxiety About Reopening

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In late 2019, there began rumblings of a novel virus that was potentially dangerous, but far away. By early 2020, all corners of the world were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lives of almost everyone on the planet was altered in some way.

What couldn’t be seen, however, but most certainly could be felt, was the pervasive and overwhelming anxiety and sadness that was the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdowns, death, financial uncertainty, and unrelenting worry that came with the pandemic of 2020 increased rates of depression, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and other social ills.

As difficult as the pandemic was, and as heartbreaking as the news reports became, some were quietly having an altogether different experience. There were people who felt that the solitude and stillness of the past year were a good thing.

They began flourishing in ways in which the noise and chaos of the pre-COVID world did not allow. This, of course, did not negate the sorrow they felt for their fellow humans. People who benefitted during the pandemic may be wary of entering post-COVID life.

Why Some People Fear Reopening

Vaccination rates are increasing, the weather is getting warmer, and businesses are slowly opening up and loosening restrictions. There is a collective sigh of relief associated with these changes. On the other hand, those who found themselves thriving in the pandemic are feeling dread about the thought of an impending return to normalcy.

They Found Sobriety During the Pandemic

The pandemic was particularly difficult for those who battled addiction. As memes circulated making light of and sanctioning day drinking, important sources of support such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) were no longer accessible for in-person meetings.

Many people who had struggled with addiction in the past found themselves relapsing as a way to cope with disrupted daily routines, loneliness, and a decline in emotional and mental health.

For others dealing with addiction, the inability to attend social gatherings actually gave them a reprieve from temptation and situations where alcohol seemed unavoidable. They no longer had to navigate happy hour culture and figure out how to politely decline a drink without drawing attention to themselves or offending a client.

For many who wrestle with alcoholism, social gatherings, which almost invariably included drinks, was their downfall. They found that abstinence and remaining in recovery came much easier during the pandemic because quarantine mandates made figuring out how to socialize in sobriety a non-issue.

Those who found sobriety in the pandemic may feel as sense of anxiousness or dread as the world begins to open because their newfound sobriety might be in jeopardy.

If you find that you fear relapsing, it might be a good idea to seek addiction support now. A mental health professional or addiction specialist will be able to provide you with tools and emotional support to help you maintain sobriety and adapt to reopening.

Their Social Anxiety and Body Image Concerns Lessened

For a large portion of the country, the hallmark of the past year has been loneliness and the ache of being separated from loved ones. There was a mourning of the loss of dinner parties, graduations, and baby showers.

However, for those who battle social anxiety or body image concerns, these events could be torturous and were more susceptible to negative outcomes—many had relapses into depressive episodes and eating disorders that were previously latent.

Preparation for get-togethers meant hours of harsh self-talk about how certain they were that they would have nothing interesting to say or feeling sure that they had chosen the wrong outfit and the wrong hostess gift.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture where the question "Have you lost weight?" is a common and acceptable greeting. It’s no wonder that some felt that every gathering opened them up to being judged and appraised by others, even if this wasn’t true.

Many reported that during the pandemic, they felt a relief about not having to worry about weight, graying roots, or walking in heels. Just like that, all of those pressures were gone. And because festivities were canceled by something outside of themselves, they didn’t have to feel badly about not wanting to attend a function or conjuring up excuses about why they couldn’t attend that birthday dinner.

Because hair and nail salons were closed, people began cultivating self-care routines that were about nurturing and pampering their inner self and not about showing up looking a certain way at the next night out in an attempt to impress of feel accepted by others.

If you dealt with body image issues or social anxiety before the pandemic, it's understandable that you might feel wary of having to interact with others again. The guidance of mental health professional can help alleviate any stress as you re-enter social gatherings. Practices like body neutrality and body positivity might bring a sense of ease.

They Realized Being an Introvert Was Beneficial

The COVID-19 pandemic turned living rooms into offices all over America. Although working virtually had some disadvantages, for some, this setup offered unanticipated perks.

Some people have the ideas, the talent and the work ethic that should lead to success. However, from the time you get your first job, you quickly realize that it takes more than those things to thrive in the workplace. Fair or unfair, personality, your ability to schmooze and serve up good water cooler banter weighs heavily on the trajectory of your career.

Those who had the smarts but lacked the confidence in their ability to be charming, give that firm handshake, or speak up in meetings began flourishing during COVID. That other “stuff” that determines success in corporate culture was rendered mostly meaningless. Introverts could actually shine based on their work, and their work alone.

Speaking up on Zoom meetings may feel significantly easier than speaking up in the conference room. Wallflowers may now be contributing more. Their ideas are being heard and their careers may be gaining traction.

Also because of work-from-home mandates, many felt that they could focus more and bring more of themselves to their work. They weren’t arriving at their desk frazzled by their morning commute or concerned about getting out before rush hour traffic got too hectic.  

If you're worried about returning to an office space, it might be a good idea to check with your company if they will allow you to work from home a few days a week.

They Felt Less Stigma About Their Mental Health Condition

Before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, plenty of people lived with crushing anxiety, debilitating sadness, and depression.

The world was always a scary place for them. People who felt like this on a daily basis felt mocked by social media images of endless frolicking and joy. It seemed to them that everyone else had it all together and they were alone in their emotional struggles.

When the pandemic began, although those dealing with mental health conditions were certainly sorry to witness the suffering of others, they also finally felt understood and felt less stigma about their mental health journey. All of a sudden, everyone was in it together!

Furthermore, during the pandemic, there has been an honest dialogue about mental health and how complicated these times are emotionally. The cultural imperative to always answer “fine” to questions about how you are doing is finally over. This has been consolation for many who were afflicted by depression and isolation prior to 2020.

Getting Help

It isn’t easy to acknowledge that you need the support of a therapist or could benefit from attending an AA meeting. It can be even more difficult to make that first appointment and walk into that office. During the pandemic, mental health services largely moved into the virtual space just as other industries did.

Potential clients accessed the help they needed by logging on rather than walking in for that intimidating first meeting.

Many found the wherewithal to address their mental conditions or start therapy for the first time in their lives because it was easier. Because of societal stigma about mental health that unfortunately still exists, many were uncomfortable with the idea of being in the waiting room of a psychiatrist’s office.

Obviously, with telemedicine, this was no longer an issue. You could interface with your provider from the privacy of your home.

If you're concerned about meeting with a therapist or other mental health professional in person, many therapists meet clients solely online or offer both options. Be sure to ask any potential therapist how they work with and support their clients to see if they will make any accommodations for you.

A Word From Verywell

Life before the global pandemic was far from perfect. It offered arguably unfair advantages to the charming in the workplace and required constant upkeep to keep up with beauty standards. While in quarantine, many people relished the opportunity to spend more time with their loved ones and pets.

As exciting as it is that we appear to be turning the corner on COVID, an uncomfortable truth is that not everyone is eager to go back to the pre-COVID way of life. They have emotionally prospered with the lifestyle shifts that came in the past year.

If you feel this way, it doesn’t make you cruel or selfish. It just means that re-entry into life as it was is a daunting thought. It also means that you may need to pace yourself and establish boundaries with regards to getting back to normal.

COVID is still with us, so you shouldn’t feel pressure to take health risks that make you uncomfortable. You should also not feel that you must return to the workplace, if your employer has offered you the option of continuing to work from home.

In whatever way you can, keep the positive lifestyle changes that you made during the pandemic going and reach out for support if you need it.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Margaret Seide, MD
Margaret Seide, MS, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of depression, addiction, and eating disorders.