STRESSED ABOUT ‘RETURNING TO NORMAL’? HERE ARE TIPS TO EASE INTO THE TRANSITION
It’s been over a year since our lives turned upside down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With almost half the U.S. population vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine, businesses are reopening to full capacity, and masking restrictions for vaccinated people are easing. But, for some adults and children, adjusting to loosened restrictions, opening of event venues, such as concerts and weddings, and returning to work, school or other activities, may be a cause of stress and anxiety.
“A common question many ask is if and when there will be a sense of normalcy,” says Neda Gould, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “While some things will seemingly return to normal, not everything will be back to how we remember it. We still need to exercise caution — for example, many adults are vaccinated, but most youths are not — and we need to find ways to adapt to this new way of living.”
People will be faced with making decisions regarding activities they feel comfortable engaging in. Understandably, many will have difficulty reintegrating into these activities and society after a year of isolation. “From an emotional perspective, we have seen increased stress, burnout, sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, trauma-related disorders and a general sense of grief of the life we knew. There will likely be a broad spectrum of emotions going forward as we begin to rebuild from a year that has reshaped us as individuals and as a society,” says Gould.
Johns Hopkins Children’s Center experts say the adjustment may also bring a range of feelings for children and teens. “Some kids may experience excitement; others may be depressed or have anxiety,” says Carisa Parrish, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The past year and a half has been a whirlwind, and that may stir emotions of everything they went through not seeing friends, staying home for an extended period or even the loss of a loved one.”
Furthermore, with COVID-19 vaccines not approved for younger children, many must continue wearing masks and may still not be able to spend time with friends, even though adults and older peers do not have to follow the same guidelines. “Younger kids may feel like it’s unfair,” says Parrish. She recommends explaining to children that this moment in time won’t last forever. They’ll be able to do more activities as soon as it’s considered safe for them,” she adds.
Parrish advises parents to pay close attention to any changes in their child’s mood and be mindful of their feelings, with parents emphasizing that there is no correct way to feel. If feelings of anxiety persist for longer than a few weeks, Parrish recommends speaking to your child’s school counselor, pediatrician or another medical professional.
For adults who feel anxiety, as well as their kids, Johns Hopkins Medicine and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center experts offer these tips to ease the transition:
- Make a plan when you can.
- Reintegrate gradually, when possible.
- In your mind, walk through what you may expect and anticipate challenges. If you have children, walk through the process with them as well.
- Accept that you and your kids may feel a variety of emotions, and make space for them.
- Share your feelings with people in your support network, and encourage your kids to do the same either with you or with friends. Understand that you and they are not alone.
- Know that some things will be out of your control, but you will be able to handle them when they arise.
- Review how things went after a transition, to identify helpful strategies and tease out less helpful aspects. Consider this a work in process.
Gould and Parrish are available for interviews on how adults and kids can deal with their emotions and cope with stress and anxiety as we return to normal after COVID-19.
BE YOUR BROTHER’S KEEPER: STEPS FOR FAITH-BASED COMMUNITIES TO REOPEN SAFELY
In 2020, COVID-19 placed an abrupt halt to in-person religious gatherings, shuttering churches, mosques, temples and other places of worship. As the world inches toward reopening facilities and loosening restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings, religious leaders and infectious disease experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine are collaborating with Baltimore’s Mayor Brandon M. Scott and the Baltimore City Health Department to determine the safest ways to gather once more.
Experts Lisa Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., M.H.S., Sherita Golden, M.D., M.H.S., and Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., participated in a Baltimore City Health Department webinar held with Baltimore’s church leaders to offer guidance for places of worship looking to open their doors. They recommend the following steps, which could be applicable to faith-based organizations around the country and internationally:
- Designate members of the congregation to stay up to date on COVID-19 information. These people will serve as liaisons to disseminate COVID-19 information to the congregation. These liaisons are not scientific or medical experts, but can inform the congregation on local and state health department policy updates and changing CDC guidelines.
- Keep COVID-19 out by avoiding its spread in facilities. Continue support for the community to get vaccinated, wear masks, practice hand hygiene and physical distancing, and stay home if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Mandate face masks when gathering indoors. Have hand sanitizer available for church members.
- Keep good records to facilitate contact tracing. Keep names and phone numbers of congregation members who visit specific facilities for services. Have members who contract COVID-19 contact the congregation’s leadership. This helps leaders contact members who may have encountered the person who contracted COVID-19.
- Prepare. Before allowing any gatherings, have a planning committee finalize all the details needed to congregate in person. Map out contact tracing record-keeping stations, hand sanitizer locations, greeters to provide masks and other key details. Determine the safest way to conduct ceremonies such as communion, baptisms and britot, including limiting attendance.
- Mandate masking in groups with unvaccinated individuals. People still need time to get vaccinated, and there are populations, such as children younger than 12, who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines. In smaller groups, like a prayer group, where everyone has been vaccinated, individuals may choose not to wear a mask.
- Physical distancing is still important. Members should be at least 6 feet apart, especially at times when members are shouting or singing. Consider adjustments that can aid physical distancing; for example, use smaller choirs who can stand far apart or blow the shofar away from the congregation.
- Keeping doors and windows open is a great way to enhance airflow, thus reducing the risk of spread.
- Disinfect high-touch surfaces like bathrooms, door handles and railings at least once a day. Do a deep clean if a member is found to have contracted COVID-19.
- Put signs up clearly communicating COVID-19 precaution expectations.
- Encourage volunteers in day care, the transportation team and other highly interactive roles to become vaccinated. Encourage hand hygiene, physical distancing and mask-wearing as well.
COVID-19 precautions are not the only considerations for religious groups reopening their doors. The world is anxious to return to practices that were common before the pandemic, but for many, life after COVID-19 will never be the same. Many COVID-19 survivors are still grappling with long-term symptoms, and members may be grieving the loss of loved ones, struggling to cope with pandemic fatigue or dealing with job loss.
- Faith-based communities should let COVID-19 survivors know that they are available as a resource.
- Add mental health to health ministries, and learn how to recognize and respond to COVID-related mental health issues, as well as others. Identify resources in the community, and work to destigmatize seeking help.
Overall, religious groups should continue to offer services like food and shelter, and partner with public health professionals as well as schools and other community spaces. Faith-based communities are among the front lines of lifesaving information and bridge-building between communities.
Galiatsatos is available for interviews.
For information from Johns Hopkins Medicine about the coronavirus pandemic, visit hopkinsmedicine.org/coronavirus. For information on the coronavirus from throughout the Johns Hopkins enterprise, including the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Johns Hopkins University, visit coronavirus.jhu.edu.