Newswise — In April 2020, we published “Learning to Cope, Fi​​​nding Hope" with advice from CSU faculty about how to deal with the anxiety, disappointment and loss everyone would inevitably face during the pandemic. At the time, we didn't know how long stay-at-home orders were to last and how much loss we would all face.

Now, as the state, country and world are slowly reopening—with some reservations as the delta variant is driving another spike in cases—many people may be facing a new sense of apprehension as they reenter society. Already, stress, anxiety and depression levels have been steadily increasing year after year, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In light of these circumstances, three more CSU experts offer their guidance for navigating the pressures of returning to a post-COVID world.

On Anxiety Michael Stanton, Ph.D., Cal State East Bay, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health

How might the pandemic's impact on mental health affect how people react to returning to post-COVID life?

For many students, it was already stressful to be in school, working hard to get good grades and graduate. But concerns around COVID-19 are going to add to overall levels of anxiety and depression. As a result, students need to check in with themselves regularly to find what they need in the moment. They might find they need more frequent breaks or to get outside and go for a walk. There are probably going to be conversations we haven't had before in the classroom among students and with professors and staff, especially about vaccination status and COVID-19 policies.

How can they manage the resulting anxiety?

Communication is critical in reducing people's anxiety—communicating about safety, safety behaviors and comfort levels with COVID-19 policies, but also communicating about what students and faculty are going through at this time and keeping people aware of how others are feeling and what they need in the moment. Developing standards and creating space for those conversations will also help, maybe by beginning classes, club or student organization meetings and faculty meetings with a discussion about COVID-19 policies.

Some of the best ways to manage personal anxiety and depression include taking care of your body, so eating a healthy diet, exercising and sleeping. The mind affects the body, and the body affects the mind. In addition, finding time for people to have positive relationships with their family and their fellow students in a safe way is going to be very important, especially after a year, for many people, of being isolated from others.

On Grief and Loss Lisa Mori, Ph.D., Cal State Fullerton, Professor, Department of Psychology, Clinical Supervisor at Mariposa Center

Many people are still coping with the loss experienced during the pandemic—the loss of jobs, milestones, health and loved ones. How might this loss impact an individual's mental health and ability to return to a post-COVID life?

Like any loss, COVID-related losses may affect an individual's well-being and functioning. Research is recognizing primary loss (i.e., loss due to major events, such as the death of a loved one or loss of a job) and secondary loss (i.e., loss of social support or loss of freedom to pursue normal activities) due to the pandemic. Common reactions include negative feelings like anxiety, distress, sadness and anger; problems with sleep, appetite, energy, motivation and focus; and what are known as "avoidance" behaviors like procrastination, social withdrawal, overeating or impulse online shopping/overspending.

How can they continue to cope with that loss while managing the anxiety of returning to life?

1) Recognize the loss(es) as a loss. 2) Give yourself time and space to process and mourn your loss. 3) Normalize things—you are in good company given that everyone else has also experienced COVID-related losses, and there is no one "right" way to cope. 4) Be kind to yourself, and don't waste energy criticizing yourself—this is an extraordinary situation. 5) Take care of yourself, from basic daily physical needs—sleep, exercise, eat and hydrate regularly—to psychological and spiritual needs: self-care (me time), connect with others, listen to music/read/reflect, write/paint/dance/creative expression, meditate, engage in faith/spiritual practices. 6) Establish a new "post-pandemic normal" routine and stick to it, as structure will help you transition from "COVID life" to the ever-changing, uncertain "new-normal/post-COVID-mandates life." 7) Do not hesitate to seek professional help as needed. (If all you're doing isn't giving you sufficient anxiety relief, then professional assistance may be needed).

On Reentering Society Soeun Park, Ph.D., CSU Bakersfield, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

With the reopening of California, individuals will be returning to in-person work or school for the first time in more than a year. How might the isolation of working/studying from home impact their ability to readjust to in-person work or school and interactions with others?

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, we had to adjust our lifestyles, work and daily routines and social relationships, while feeling uncertain and nervous about what may come next. Many of us have gone through losses—including loved ones, jobs and things we used to enjoy. It has been a tremendously stressful time for all of us. Now that we are slowly going back to what we were used to pre-pandemic, we may feel a whole range of emotions again. After more than a year of isolation, returning to in-person work or school can be stress-inducing and overwhelming—whether you waited for this moment or not. Although we have been resilient and adaptive during this unprecedented time, going back to normal may require more resilience, patience and flexibility. Have you thought about having to deal with traffic or sitting in a traffic jam again? What about racing to class/work and then having to run to a social event? How about the pressure to be productive now that we are back to “normal?" All these parts of our “normal" may induce anxiety, trepidation or frustration.

How can people care for their mental health as they prepare for increased social activity and returning to the office/classroom?

How can we take care of ourselves as we set new routines and coordinate regarding in-person school/work? Accept, acknowledge and allow. Accept your feelings. It is OK to feel excited in one moment and worried in the other moment. Remember any transition can be hard, and it can be even more so especially after you have already gone through one. Be kind to yourself as those feelings arise, whatever they might be. Acknowledge what you have gone through. The COVID-19 pandemic itself as well as associated incidents (e.g., the pandemic of racism, job losses) have shattered our sense of safety and security. The impact is worse for those from marginalized communities, including people of color and people from low-income communities. It certainly has been a tough time. Give yourself credit for what you have gone through. Allow yourself to set boundaries and keep your own pace. Some of us may be ready for increased social interactions, while others may not. Check in with yourself about how you feel and what you are comfortable with. As we readjust, remember, you don't have to change yourself in one day. Give yourself time and space.


More Resources

If you need more mental health support as you prepare for the return to post-COVID life, you can: