Life after Covid is going to be vastly different. After all, you hunkered down for over a year and learned to navigate grocery aisles with masks impeding your vision. You survived a tsunami of uncertainty, unrest, stress, upheaval, grief, and fear. And now, you’re vaccinated (or almost vaccinated!) and ready to venture out!
Why does this trigger even more stress?
It feels a bit like starting to date someone again after a really nasty breakup. You don’t trust them. You’re not even sure that you trust yourself.
This breakup, though, was with the world as you knew it. You actually needed to unlearn everything that you knew about the world. Suddenly, you were no longer safe.
How weird is that?
There’s still so much loss, grief, and uncertainty to process too.
Life After Covid: Your Brain’s Perspective
Over the past year, that “stranger danger” you learned about as a toddler became very real for your brain. And since your brain’s number one job is to keep you safe, it operated on high alert for far too long.
That trauma-reinforced vigilance is hard to subdue. The chronicity and repetition of that messaging actually changed your wiring.
Plus, there’s just enough uncertainty still out there — variants, other viruses, economic instability, and hate crimes — to keep your fear circuits alive and kicking.
It’s important to note that even if stress wore you down before the pandemic, your brain is designed to keep this worry flowing.
But even the stress management pros struggled as the enormity of this challenge overwhelmed their routine coping mechanisms.
How do you tone down your reactivity and discomfort? How do you take care of your own stress and still help others manage theirs?
Here are five ways to release social stress and anxiety in life after Covid.
1. Recognize stress for what it is.
Our culture trained you to dismiss emotions as “weaknesses.” But the stress merely involves brain signals that alerting you to “take action” in order to be safe. It’s perfectly normal to experience a wide range of emotions right now, including anger and fear.
Instead of letting your emotions control your thoughts, actions, or health, recognize them as “data.” Ask what you really need right now. Make stress discussions safe. Keep recharging your mind, body, and spirit.
2. Ground yourself.
Calming yourself is a human superpower. You can use your breath and body to calm your mind and access your smarter, less-reactive brain.
Simply slowing your breath, saying a mantra that grounds you, or bringing your attention to the feeling of rubbing your feet on the floor can help your brain control your stress reactions.
3. Don’t “catch” stress.
Yes, stress is contagious. Your mirror neurons help you recognize stress in others, which ramps up your sympathetic nervous system flight-or-fight response.
This response is helpful for wilderness survival but not for dealing with coworkers, family, or friends. Notice the signs and symptoms of stress in others, and use techniques to calm yourself down so that you don’t feel stressed too.
4. Don’t “spread” stress.
Check in with yourself on a regular basis, and take responsibility for what you feel and how it affects others. Stay accountable for your self-care so that you can avoid worrying others with your stress. Avoid conversations that escalate fear.
5. Tread lightly.
Rebuilding trust is a process that you can’t rush. Take small steps towards trusting yourself, and reflect on your wins along the way. Rest your mind, body, and spirit, and be kind to yourself and others.
You are not alone if our “new normal” cranks you up a notch. Your brain loves certainty, but that ship has sailed. In these uncertain times, be responsible for how you handle stress. Help create a world where we can all thrive.
Cynthia Ackrill, M.D. is a leader in the field of stress mastery and an expert in the critical connections between lifestyle choices, performance capacities, leadership effectiveness, health, and happiness. For more information, contact her or visit her courses and resources on her website.