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5 tips for transitioning to post-vaccination life

For more than a year, you’ve been asked to wear a mask in public, not hug loved ones and limit travel. Now that the country is starting to open up again as more people get vaccinated, once-normal activities can feel overwhelming, says Mark Flanagan, LMSW, MPH, MA, a Piedmont outpatient oncology social worker.

“We’re trying to navigate the anxiety, uncertainty and stress of identifying what’s safe and what isn’t,” says Flanagan. “Some people might have developed social phobias during the pandemic, so being in public places can also lead to anxiety.” 

If you feel anxious about resuming in-person interactions after getting fully vaccinated, Flanagan has several tips:

  1. Have a plan. “The more you plan, the less anxiety you’ll have,” he says. For example, if you’re going to a restaurant, identify the safety measures they have taken and how you’ll interact in that particular situation. If you plan to visit friends, determine who will be there, how long you’ll stay and what boundaries you’ll have in place.

  2. Stay safe. “Keeping all of the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic can be useful in transitioning back,” says Flanagan. “These include CDC guidelines like limiting the size of your group, wearing your mask in public and cleaning your hands often.”

  3. Take it slow. “There’s no rush to do anything,” he says. “I know people want to get back out there, but if you don’t feel comfortable right now, there’s no prize in getting out there sooner. If you’re anxious and want to limit in-person interactions for now, that’s OK.”

  4. Honor your mental and physical health. Make sure you’re taking care of the basics, he says. This includes limiting screen time and getting adequate exercise, good nutrition and enough sleep. Maintaining some social interactions and practicing mindfulness meditation can also help regulate your emotions.

  5. Make gradual changes. “The best way to change a behavior is to gradually increase levels of the challenge,” he says. “Gradual change is more sustainable and powerful. You can keep it up over the long term.” So instead of meeting friends at a crowded indoor bar as soon as you’re fully vaccinated, consider having two or three vaccinated loved ones over for appetizers.

When to seek help for anxiety

When anxiety starts affecting your life in significant ways – including your health, relationships and work, Flanagan recommends connecting with a counselor or your primary care provider. Here are some signs you may need professional support:

  • Feeling restless

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Getting into frequent arguments with loved ones

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol

  • Feeling down or depressed

  • Physical symptoms like racing heartbeat, sweating, upset stomach or difficulty breathing

  • Trouble concentrating

Remember, be kind to yourself, take it slow and set boundaries that help you feel safe.

“None of us have been through a pandemic like this before, which means none of us have experienced transitioning to a post-pandemic world,” says Flanagan. “We’re still learning as we go.”

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