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There’s no post-pandemic road map to show us how to reclaim our lives

It’s beginning to look like the world could return to some level of normalcy in 2021.

The continued vaccination of people and the possibility of creating herd immunity, plus the recent arrival of spring and thoughts of outdoor socializing, means many of us are beginning to hope that we’ll see the end of pandemic lockdowns, or some version of our pre-pandemic lives, happen before the end of the year.

That’s good news, right?

Maybe. But don’t be surprised if instead of feeling excited, the thought of being out in the world — in restaurants, bars, stores, and other spaces — fills you with dread. Over the past year, many of us have gotten comfortable in the safe spaces we’ve been inhabiting and may require an adjustment period to participate in activities we once considered normal.

Those who work in mental health or write about self-care are offering tips to help people prepare to re-enter the post-pandemic world and some good ones can be found here and here.

The article from CNBC, for example, notes that being out of the public eye for most of the past year has increased our sensitivity to social events which can create anxiety about returning to them.

"By being housebound during the pandemic, we've been acting like we have severe social anxiety," CNBC quotes Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist, as telling Elemental in an interview published on Feb. 16. "It's for a good reason, of course, but it mimics avoidance, which feeds and waters social anxiety."

In her Psychology Today column, Dr. Elizabeth Palumbo, Psy.D., advises being intentional about how and when you return to pre-pandemic activity.

“Observe what is happening for you physically, emotionally, and mentally,” she writes. “Ask yourself a few questions like, “How do I feel?” “What’s going on right now?” “Is anyone in danger?””

The best advice, though, may be to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to reclaim our old lives. There’s no map to show us the way and each of us will have to decide for ourselves how fast or slow we want to travel.

We’ve never had to adjust to a pandemic or to life after one, so it’s best not to set expectations that we’ll do it perfectly. Now is the time to practice self-compassion as we all wake up from this period of isolation and attempt to figure out what we are returning to.

However, it turns out — whether we run with wide-open arms into the future or find ourselves embracing our new social freedom with some reluctance; whether we move forward step by step or find our way in fits and starts — it’s all okay.

We’ll each get there in our own time.

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