End of corona measures – when normality becomes a burden

06. April 2022

A conversation without a mask, a hug from your good friend, the birthday party of your colleague or the concert visit of your favorite band – All these things were hardly possible during the last two years and if so, only very limited. At the beginning of the Corona pandemic, most people agreed: The restrictions feel quite awful! But now that there are gradual relaxations and should be outweighed by joy, a sudden uneasiness sets in for some. On one hand, it is quite natural that we first have to get used to the “social workload” of the past. However, for quite a few people, the long withdrawal has brought with it a serious deterioration in mental health, and the path out of avoidance now seems immensely threatening.

Where does the fear of the relaxations come from?

Each expansion of corona measures has, on one hand, made us more constrained, but in some respects it has also provided us with some relaxation. The annoying commute to work was eliminated, the leisure time stress with countless appointments and undertakings became less, we no longer needed an excuse why we didn’t sweat in the gym or could have dinner delivered to our home with a clear conscience – after all, our favorite restaurant had to survive somehow.

The full relaxations now might not only mean the end of those perks, they might also again encourage our worry about missing out or need to catch up on what we missed. When everything is possible again, we need to keep up with our surroundings again: Eventful after-work plans, parties with countless guests, adventurous long-distance trips – The hamster wheel turns again. Conversely, we again have much less time for ourselves, our family and recreation. The fear of not being able to keep up, of losing touch or of not being able to cope with the new (old) challenges of everyday life increases significantly.

Side effects of the pandemic – risks to mental health

As a result of the numerous measures taken to contain the pandemic, the worldview of many people has changed. For example, there is significantly more uncertainty regarding one’s own health or the health of others. A severe course of the disease or even deaths in the family or professional environment are an additional burden in many cases. As a result, some people have become more mistrustful, anxious and psychologically vulnerable.

In particular, those who also lived more cautious and withdrawn lives before the pandemic, or even those who already suffered from mental illness, may even have experienced the strict protective measures as a great relief. There was no longer a need to confront worries and fears and move outside one’s comfort zone. Corona may even have served as an excuse for any obligations and wearing the mask could be a safe shield to the outside world.

Importantly, the incidence of mental illness from the Corona pandemic was shown to have increased. Increased risk factors included social isolation, double stress, fear of loss for job and family members as well as a crowded living situation and domestic violence. (Robert Koch Institute, 2021)

Just an emotional state or already a mental illness?

To a certain extent, all the previously mentioned concerns regarding the progressive loosening are understandable. For now, it will take us a while to get used to the previous workload of social contacts and obligations. Conversely, it also took us a while to get used to life in lockdown. But what if the worries become so powerful that we are downright panicky about the lockdowns?

Especially in times of pandemic, it is a particular challenge to distinguish real fears from pathological ones. However, when personal suffering pressure in a wide variety of areas of life becomes enormously high, it is most likely a psychological disorder and not a temporary emotional state. Possible disorder patterns that may develop or intensify as a result of the pandemic:

  • Anxiety disorders: including feelings of anxiety in objectively nonthreatening situations, panic attacks
  • Compulsive disorders: including obsessive rituals and thoughts, tension
  • Depression: including permanently depressed mood, sleep disturbances, lack of drive
  • Stress disorders and traumas: among others, despair, dejection, anxiety
  • Eating disorders: including decreased or increased food intake, distorted body image.

When both psychological and physical symptoms occur or worsen, leading to tremendous suffering, this should be an alarming warning sign.

The right way to deal with fear of loosening

First, it is important to mention that if symptoms of the mental health conditions just defined are present, it is definitely advisable to seek professional support in the form of psychotherapy. Alternatively, the protective framework of an inpatient stay can provide short-term improvement and support in coming to terms with current events.

Furthermore, self-help measures can accompany the way out of the corona measures in everyday life. Basically, the more we try to control our worries with regard to the relaxations, the more the focus will be on them and the worries will worsen. Consequently, in the first step it makes sense to acknowledge the anxieties and to question them concretely, which the lockdown has also brought along instructive.

Perhaps a handful of comforting habits can help us avoid stumbling as we take steps towards normalcy. Habits like getting at least eight hours of sleep, meditation and relaxation exercises, exercising regularly, keeping the home tidy, or making phone calls to friends or relatives. Likewise, it is important to strengthen one’s self-worth and to become aware of one’s own resources such as adaptability, patience or family support. Other following tips may be helpful:

  1. Take small steps: Instead of completely filling your schedule again overnight, it is worthwhile, for example, to schedule only one or two appointments per week after work. The meeting place can be instead of the noisy and crowded bar also first the cozy café around the corner.
  2. Select social activities: It is more helpful to surround yourself with people who share your concerns about loosening up and do not build up pressure. Communicating concerns and experiencing support from those around you is of great importance.
  3. Include time for yourself: Enough recovery periods and newly discovered beneficial habits should become part of the new routine.
  4. Stress reduction through exercise: Whether it is the jogging round in the woods or just the currently very popular walking, any kind of movement has a decelerating effect.

Finally, it is of great importance to be able to endure that others perhaps faster again ramp up their workload of activities, while we still long for more retreat. We should regularly ask ourselves the following question: Am I doing this for me right now or for fear of missing out?

References

Categories: Long-Covid

Verena Klein
Autor:in Verena Klein
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