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Anxious about returning to 'normal'? Mental health challenges post-COVID

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Posted at 2:05 PM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-14 21:18:42-04

KENT COUNTY, Mich — Whether it was a jampacked social calendar, or a long morning commute, chances are your life looks very different now than before the pandemic.

As vaccination rates climb and COVID-19 cases go down, the return to "normal" is back in sight.

But that thought isn't appealing to everyone.

"It is going to be a lot to try to ease back into like a very structured routine," said Elizza LeJeune, a clinical social worker at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. "Over 40 million Americans deal with anxiety... so there is anxiety already existing, than the pandemic happened. We all kind of shifted and adjusted our lives to thrive during the pandemic."

As the pandemic shows signs of winding down, new mental health challenges are emerging, as some struggle with the anxiety and stress of returning to life as it was before COVID-19.

For many who have been working remotely, there may be anxiety about returning to work in person.

"Returning to the office, a lot of people are struggling with this idea of like oh my gosh I have to be 'back on'," explained LeJeune.

Along with stress surrounding seeing co-workers again, there may also be concerns about cleaning protocols to protect against contracting the virus.

"I think discussing protocols and what that means, and also protocols, in terms of hygiene will be really important and going back to the office," added LeJeune.

For those who've added a few "pandemic pounds", there may be anxiety about being seen in public again.

"There's a bit of anxiety regarding like showing yourself after pandemic life and what do I look like going back out into the world working or dating," she said.

LeJeune pointed out that many may also be dealing with trauma for living through the pandemic.

"It kind of reminds me of the situation when 9/11," she explained. "It affects everyone so differently depending on how connected you are to either someone who had it, or if you had it, or a family member passed, or if you are a medical provider during the pandemic."

As states like Michigan eye a full reopening this summer, LeJeune said there are a few tips that may help.

"I think something what's important that I will tell my patients is to treat going back into the office just the same way, you would, if your child is going off to their first day of school," she said. "Driving past your office right now, not waiting until that date that your job says like 'hey, we're all coming back'. That's going to be extremely anxiety provoking....Re-getting used to how it feels will take down the fear of like initially stepping foot back in the door and everyone's overwhelming you and asking questions...Slowly putting your foot out there, I think, will be helpful."

But if it feels too overwhelming, LeJeune said it's best to seek professional help.

"I think that in any point where you feel like your anxiety or worry or fear of life in general, feel so heavy upon you, that it is hard to enjoy your day to day, it is hard to enjoy meals, friends, to reach out and talk to someone."

To learn more about the resources available at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, click here.

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