Joyce Massucci, right, holds hands with her friend "Smiling Dave" as they listen to "Soulful Femme" on the first day of the Franklin Blues & Barbecue Festival, Saturday, June 19, in Franklin, Pa. The annual festival with free music, returned after being canceled last year due to COVID-19, uses proceeds from vendors and sponsors to support the music programs in the local public schools. The festival helped celebrate the first Juneteenth celebration in the city.(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Pennsylvania Daily Life
Joyce Massucci, right, holds hands with her friend "Smiling Dave" as they listen to "Soulful Femme" on the first day of the Franklin Blues & Barbecue Festival, Saturday, June 19, in Franklin, Pa. The annual festival with free music, returned after being canceled last year due to COVID-19, uses proceeds from vendors and sponsors to support the music programs in the local public schools. The festival helped celebrate the first Juneteenth celebration in the city.(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

It took people a long time to adopt various public health measures to counter the spread of the virus, and it will take a long time for people’s attitudes and beliefs to return to normal, experts say.

How many times over the past 15 months did you say “I can’t wait to ditch this mask?” Or long to hug a relative? How often did you think “as soon as this is over I’m going to travel, or go to a sports event?”

We all missed our pre-pandemic life. But now that we can ditch the mask, hug our loved ones, and go to a baseball game, do you find yourself hesitating? Are you anxious? Worried?

This return to “normal” everyone was looking forward to might not feel quite as expected.

Give yourself a break, said Dr. Eduardo Espiridion, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Reading Hospital-Tower Health in Berks County. Everyone is feeling rattled now that “normal” is almost back.

“A lot of people have been conditioned to certain behaviors because of the pandemic measures and recommendations,” he said. “It is not easy to ‘unlearn’ them. People will find it hard to ‘switch it off.’ It will take time to get conditioned again with the new normal as people adapt with the ever-changing situation.”

What Are Some Typical Emotions You Might Be Feeling?

Stephanie Lee, Tower Behavioral Health CEO, said a mixture of both excitement and fear is common. 

“Some are very hopeful and excited to return to activities and routines they once enjoyed,” she said. “On the other hand, some are anxious and worried about returning to activities and routines they participated in as some have enjoyed the less busy, more isolated and less stressful environments that naturally emerged as a result of the pandemic.”

Spaces where people are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing can cause feelings of concern and fear, Lee said. For some people, it is likely that they will have anxiety about things such as shaking hands or being in a large group.

It took people a long time to adopt various public health measures to counter the spread of the coronavirus, and it will also take a long time for people’s attitudes and beliefs to return to normal, if that is ever possible, Espiridion said.

How to Deal With Feelings of Anxiety and Nervousness

If you’re feeling anxious or nervous, talk about it, Lee said.

“If there are fears about returning to in-office work, talk with your supervisor about your concerns,” she said. “Talk to family and friends you trust who can support and often ease stress and nervousness. Talk to a professional who can help you develop personalized ways to manage feelings of anxiety, fear, and stress.”

What Are Some Things You Can Do to Get Back to “Normal” Life?

Ease into returning to crowds and public places, Lee said. Take small steps rather than jumping right in. If you are in a situation where you are uncomfortable, Lee said, it’s okay to remove yourself. 

Return to one “normal” thing, get comfortable, then add in another thing. There is no need to change everything at once unless you’re feeling ready to do so, Lee said.

Gradually expose yourself to crowds, Espiridion suggested. Slowly increase your exposure and visit places that might not be as crowded.

Make sure you have updated and factual information about vaccines, infection rates, and state regulations. This helps you to make informed decisions about “re-entering” society and what your personal limitations may be, Lee said.

As you focus on returning to the new “normal,” she said, don’t lose sight of the fun and good things you did during the pandemic. 

“Maybe you found that you had increased calls and facetimes with loved ones who live far away,” she said. “Maybe you increased your time outdoors or developed new hobbies. Think of the things that helped you deal with the loss of “normal” life, the increased isolation, and fear during the pandemic and be sure to continue them.”

How Can You Help a Loved One With Their Reentry Struggles?

People will feel overwhelmed when facing a return to normalcy. They might have many problems that will need to be solved quickly, Lee said. Being solution focused will help them address these issues one by one.

“Show support by being available to listen to their concerns,” Lee said. “Help them problem solve. If you find them struggling with intense feelings of fear, anxiety, or nervousness, call a behavioral health professional for help.”

Most importantly, know that all these worries and hesitancy are normal.

“We are all going through the same thing and have thought to ourselves ‘what does this mean?’ ‘What is next for the world?’ ‘What will our new normal be?’ Normalizing these thoughts and feelings helps others to feel OK when they experience them,” Lee said.