If I asked you how you’re feeling about returning to normal life post-Covid, would you say that you can’t wait or that you’re feeling a bit apprehensive? 

Recent surveys[1] suggest that this question splits us 50:50. While “getting back to normal” will be a relief for many, lots of us are approaching the change with some trepidation. Ongoing fears about infection, unease in busy places, anxiety about socialising, pressure to ‘catch up’ and readjust to old routines, even resentment at having to give up the bits of pandemic life that we’ve quite enjoyed: all natural consequences of living through an extended period of stress, uncertainty and isolation.

Humans are creatures of habit – we respond to uncertainty and threat by controlling what we can and by carving out new routines. We’ve adapted to routines over the last 12 months that avoid social contact, so it’s no surprise that re-joining a busy, social world feels daunting. If you’d spent a year marooned on a desert island, you’d likely crave rescue but still find the world a bit overwhelming on your return.

What can you do to ease the transition?

First, don’t mistake anxiety for a sign that you shouldn’t re-engage. If friends and family are a priority for you, then reconnecting socially will be important, even if anxiety provoking at first. Aim for what psychologists call ‘graded exposure’ – start small (e.g. meet one person outdoors) and build up gradually to larger gatherings over time. Remind yourself that you did this successfully in the past and can do it again.

Second, think about whether there are aspects of pandemic living you want to keep. Aim for the best of both worlds, keeping the bits you’ve enjoyed while also returning to things you’ve missed. Last but not least, remember that we’ll all have different tolerances for what feels ok at each stage so be patient with yourself and others. “Normal” from now on is going to be different for everyone.

Julia Allan is a Chartered Psychologist and Behavioural Scientist at the University of Aberdeen. Twitter:  @JAllanHealthPsy 

[1] American Psychological Association. One year on: unhealthy weight gains, increased drinking reported by Americans coping with pandemic stress. Published March 11, 2021.