In March 2020, the governor of North Carolina declared a state-wide quarantine to prevent a surge of COVID-19 early into the pandemic. Non-essential businesses had to close. People were urged to stay home, with some counties even setting curfews. Many employers transitioned staff to remote work and schools went virtual. Residents practiced the three Ws when around those not in their homes: waiting six feet apart, wearing masks and washing hands.
Many assumed this never-before-experienced new normal would last four to six weeks tops. However, as restrictions continued for months on end, businesses began to shutter, some workers went on unemployment and schools extended virtual learning into much of the 2020-2021 school year.
Many people felt isolated as health and government officials encouraged residents to refrain from large gatherings and skip in-person holiday celebrations. High schoolers and college students missed live graduation ceremonies after years of hard work.
We longed for a return to normal and the joy-filled, messiness of a collective human experience — live and in-person.
And now that we are finally seeing things open up with birthday party invites trickling in, wedding guest lists growing longer and friends and loved ones coming over, why do we feel stressed?
The Transition to Normalcy
There are many reasons as to why people are feeling so stressed as they transition back into some semblance of normalcy amidst the pandemic. One reason is the obvious fear people have over their physical safety (getting sick) once they are in contact with more people after being cocooned at home for so long; the anxiety over all the requirements to ensure their safety plays a role as well (social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing often). In addition, there is the factor of getting readjusted to in-person human interaction/being social after doing “virtual” meetings, etc. for an extended period of time.
Even with the safeguard of the vaccine, these concerns remain as people try to navigate what is okay when they are urged to continue many pandemic-level precautions.
Common Symptoms of Stress
Minds and bodies collect stress after months of being in fight or flight mode, and these emotions naturally spill over, affecting our mental and physical health.
Common symptoms of stress include irritability (low threshold), anxiety, fear, feeling overwhelmed and difficulty concentrating. There may also be physical signs, such as muscle tension, headaches, stomach aches, fatigue and difficulty with sleep.
How to Lower Stress Levels
Adults can do several things to lower their stress levels. These include:
- Getting seven hours of sleep, at the minimum, per night.
- Eating three healthy meals per day and staying hydrated with water (at least six cups).
- Practicing mindfulness (meditation, prayer, journaling).
- Spending time outside in nature.
- Exercising (this one is very important); physical activity releases endorphins, which are nature’s antidepressants.
- Keeping in close contact with friends/family and checking in on them; making sure to feel connected.
- Creating habits or a routine of the aforementioned tips in order to practice them daily.
- Being aware when stress levels reach a point in which they begin to affect one’s ability to function and seeking medical care if this happens.
Beyond support for adults, children also need guidance on how to cope, especially as they return to school. Parents and teachers can help with the transition to in-person learning for all kids and especially those who may feel a little stressed. These include:
- Ensuring that children feel safe and reassuring them that the school staff is doing everything to make sure everyone is safe.
- Having open and sincere lines of communication; being nonjudgmental and listening to all their feelings or concerns with empathy.
- Teaching them and engaging them in healthy coping mechanisms, such as the ones mentioned above for adults: getting enough sleep per night, eating three balanced, healthy meals per day, limiting screen time, incorporating exercise/physical activity daily and journaling/drawing as a way to use creativity to process emotions.
- Spending quality time with kids. Parent should be present and fully engaged when spending time with them. Try putting your phones away and enjoy each other’s company without the interruption of technology.
- As with adults, if your child is showing signs of stress that is impairing their ability to function/interferes with their relationships, it is important to seek medical care.
It Takes Time
The pandemic and the restrictions that have come along with it have undoubtedly impacted our mental health. We should all be gracious with ourselves as we tiptoe back to a bit of normalcy and honor our feelings, so we can get through this and to the other side, stronger, happier and healthier.
Learn More about Dr. Lucia Reyes
Dr. Lucia Reyes is a board-certified family medicine physician with clinical interests in practicing full-spectrum family medicine, taking care of patients of all ages, women’s health and performing in-office procedures. Dr. Reyes believes in well-rounded care for her patients. She also feels that health is a composite of all factors, including psychological, social and environmental, which are all important to her to address in order to take care of her patients. Learn more about Dr. Reyes and schedule an appointment today.