As covid-19 vaccinations continue to roll out in the United States, there has been an eager push to return to pre-covid activities. Many folks express feelings of shame in sharing their anxiety and stress around reintegration with family, friends, colleagues, and community, reporting hearing comments such as “hypochondriac”, “too anxious”, “mentally-unwell”, “having a phobia” etc… Not only do comments like these continue to fuel the stigma around mental health, it implies that apprehension toward re-integrating is inherently wrong and anyone who experiences this deviates from the expected standard response.
Why Are Some People Still Feeling Anxious?
1. We Are Still In A Pandemic
On one hand we are seeing data trends in the right direction in regions where vaccination rates are high, on the other hand we are still in a pandemic. A pandemic indicates a surge in infections spread over several countries with a large number of people affected.
The juxtaposition of the U.S. trending towards loosening regulations and the massive outbreak in India not only creates a level of uncertainty about the global future but also reminds us of the grave toll of the pandemic. In the U.S. alone we have 571 thousand deaths to date.Philosophically, witnessing this much death elevates our own experience of grief whether or not we are directly affected.
2. Not All Communities Are Affected The Same
It’s been documented that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by Covid.
Many communities are still reeling from the aftermath of Covid and struggling to gain access to vaccinations. Having optimism towards systems (educational, health, government, etc…) keeping people of color safe during the pandemic and during the transition out of the pandemic is inextricably tied to privilege.
3. We Are Experiencing A Global Trauma
Each and everyone of us is experiencing a global trauma. The pandemic presents a clear and present threat to our physical safety and lives. Not to mention the continued trauma of losing housing, access to food, and other ways the pandemic has crept into our everyday experiences. Trauma can be generally understood as an event or series of events in which one’s nervous system is overwhelmed and our trauma responses are different. While we can use federal and state guidelines to help our minds understand which activities are safe, under which conditions, our bodies may not feel safe.
Two Ways Of Knowing
“often the body knows what the mind cannot reason” -Jaya
In our society we often prioritize knowing something in our minds. Information that is written, researched, and documented feels more tangible. While this type of knowing is important, our body also gives us information. The two types of information are qualitatively different but equally important for wellness. When the mind and the body are aligned, we might experience more ease. To integrate the two ways of knowing, it’s important to spend time practicing being attuned to our bodily sensations and their connection to our internal states. It is also important to develop critical reasoning skills and awareness on how to deduce whether information is provided by a reputable source.
What You Can Do
1. Acknowledge the ongoing trauma and refrain from stigmatizing other people’s response to the trauma
2. Work towards integrating the two ways of knowing.
Use reliable sources such as the CDC and your medical provider to understand which activities are safe under what conditions for your mind to understand activities you can try out.
Practice mindfulness and somatic practices to gain a deeper understanding of how your body tells you when you are in a space that feels safe, in a space with some discomfort, and a space where you are feeling threatened. Know the difference between these spaces.
Build a repertoire of grounding practices you can use to stretch yourself in spaces of discomfort.
Rank the activities informed by reliable resources from ones that feel safe in your body to ones that feel scary.
Have a plan on how you will check in with your body during each activity.
Start with the activities that feel safe and slowly work your way up your ranked list.
Keep the duration of the activity short for ones that feel scary.
3. Practice self-compassion by knowing this process is not linear. Some days you might have the internal resources to stretch beyond your safe space and some days you may not. That is perfectly normal and ok. Allow your ranking of activities to be a living list. You might think you’ll feel ok in a given activity but your body might tell you otherwise. You can adjust the list accordingly. It’s also important to take breaks on stretching beyond your safety and comfort spaces because we have been in a perpetual zone of discomfort and uncertainty for over a year.