With millions of Americans vaccinated and mask mandates lifted in most parts of the country, people are ready to have a bit of fun. While returning to some semblance of “normal” life is exciting, it also brings anxieties and concerns. Some of us aren’t quite sure how to navigate this new world, especially as the pandemic continues to rage in many places.
And although you might be starting to find yourself feeling FOMO, or “fear of missing out” (remember what that feels like?!), when you’re scrolling through your social media feeds, don’t let others’ post-quarantine life choices affect your mental and physical health. We are continuing to live through a very difficult (and often traumatic) time in history — and expecting our bodies and minds to be perfect right away is unrealistic. (If you’re struggling to cope with a pandemic-related loss, see “Coping with Grief in the Era of COVID-19.”)
“FOMO is a type of anxiety about not taking advantage of opportunities, and it’s usually caused by fantasies created in our own minds about how fulfilled we would be if we did the things that other people are doing,” says Betsy Chung, PsyD, a licensed psychologist based in Southern California. “This can be especially hard if you're not ready to re-enter society completely, but everybody else seems to be having a grand old time.”
In fact, she explains that too much emphasis on how we want things to be causes us to lose touch with how things actually are. Under those conditions, we lose the ability to fully engage with the present, which is the only period of time we do have the power to influence.
Chung adds that it’s important to take some time to think about what you’re comfortable with, accept your feelings as valid, and communicate honestly and directly with loved ones. She also points out that it’s completely healthy to take longer than others to feel comfortable again.
You may not be ready to socialize in large groups or hop on a plane and take that vacation — but that’s OK, and you’re not alone. This is a brand-new experience for everybody, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Instead of focusing on everything you’re not doing or being, focus on living your best life — take time for self-care, and maybe treat yourself a little.
From sourdough starters to puzzle-making mania, many of us found the joy in simpler things during quarantine. And Chung says continuing to embrace these new passions can help your overall mental health in the long term.
Not sure where to start? Chung suggests beginning by thinking about the things you like, the things you're good at, and the things you’ve always been curious about — and then taking action. Research community resources, reconnect with family members, visit a national park, start a new hobby, volunteer at the animal shelter, or even start an online side business. These things can all bring a new sense of satisfaction now that we are able to enjoy them once again. Focus more on what feeds your soul — and not what’s feeding your social feed.
Experts studying the effects of meditation on the brain and body have shown that meditation may improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia. In fact, a systematic review of 47 trials performed to study whether meditation can reduce stress and stress-related health problems revealed that meditation has a positive impact on anxiety, depression, stress, mood, quality of life, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and pain. Want to give it a try? Our beginner’s guide lays out easy ways for anyone to begin a meditation practice.
Just because you’re not jetting around the world doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in your own backyard — literally. Here are some easy ways to travel the globe without going too far.
• Travel the world at your local farmers market. Have everyone in your family pick a recipe from a country they want to visit, then hit up your local farmers market to find all the ingredients to make your dishes a reality.
• Host a block party. You never know what interesting people you might meet while traveling, but the same can be true for your own neighborhood! New to town? Never really met your neighbors? Host a socially distant block party. Contact your neighbors to see what their comfort levels are, and then start planning.
• Take advantage of museum reservations. Many museums and discovery centers are open by appointment. Schedule a time to visit your local museum and enjoy having the place all to yourself!
• Check out your public library. Travel all over the world (and beyond) by getting lost in a good book. Some libraries have reopened their doors, but many others offer book pickups. All you have to do is go online, find the book you want, and reserve!
Many people found themselves turning to alcohol to cope with the stressors of this strange era. However, alcohol is a depressant, and drinking in excess on a regular basis can negatively affect your mental and physical well-being.
“‘Treating ourselves’ is all about seeking pleasure, and we need to find ways to achieve pleasure without suffering damaging consequences,” Chung says. “It can be easy to overdo the drinking, partying, splurging — which can create bigger problems down the line.”
If you think you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, it may be time to ask for help — an uncomfortable step, but one of the greatest acts of true self-care. (If you have questions about your relationship with alcohol, see “That Second Glass of Wine: Is It Self-Care or Something Else?”)
Regular exercise can relieve stress in many ways. It can help you sleep better at night, keep your weight in check, and boost your mood. If you like hitting the gym or running, that’s great! But if you dread those things, then going for a walk, riding your bike, or participating in a sport are just as good. Just get moving. (Before making big changes in your physical activity level, talk to your healthcare provider about your health goals — so you can achieve them safely.)
Find yourself feeling blue after scrolling through the ’gram? Take mini social detoxes throughout the week and focus on what you’re thankful for. Keep catching yourself checking in on social media? Consider taking social news apps off your phone; the added step of going to a browser on your phone can give you a few extra seconds to reconsider whether it’s really a good idea to check.
You can also set a daily limit for the amount of time you spend on your phone or set certain rules about looking at screens during dinner or before bed.
“Too much screen time has been linked to problems with physical, emotional, and social functioning,” Chung says. “Even if you don't follow your rules to the letter, the mere fact that you’re even thinking about limiting screen time can be a great way to improve accountability.”
“The pandemic has brought a shift in perspectives regarding mental health,” Chung notes. “Pandemic restrictions forced people to turn inward to find peace and self-worth. When all the external stuff was stripped away, we still managed to live our lives.”
She says that people feeling self-conscious about pandemic pounds, for instance, should give themselves some grace.
“It's important to remember that you just overcame a pandemic and all the stress that comes with it. That's impressive and has nothing to do with your appearances,” she says. “Think about all the achievements, lessons learned, and relationships developed or deepened over the pandemic.
“You now have official proof that the numbers on the scale never contributed to your worth in any meaningful way.”
Whether it’s allowing yourself to not compare yourself with others or saying no to situations that cause you more stress than happiness, treat yourself with kindness.
If we’ve learned anything in the past year and a half, it’s that some things are out of our control. One thing you can control? Taking steps for your overall health and wellness. Life can get stressful, but taking a few minutes a day to check in with yourself is the ultimate act of kindness.
Most people think of seeing a medical provider only when something is already wrong, but checking in on the regular can help set you up for a healthier future. Book a virtual checkup or routine appointment easily with Carbon Health.