How to Manage Post-Covid Anxiety

How to Manage Post-Covid Anxiety

Gabrielle Avery-Peck, PhD

Gabrielle Avery Peck

Dr. Avery-Peck received her Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University, a Master of Education in Counseling and Sport Psychology from Boston University and a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Boston University. She completed an APA Accredited predoctoral internship at Florida Atlantic University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Dr. Avery-Peck was trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy at the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program, a division of McLean Hospital’s Child and Adolescent Services.

Dr. Avery-Peck specializes in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders including Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Specific Phobia, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in children, adolescents, and adults. She emphasizes a collaborative approach, working with clients to understand their fears and encouraging them to become their own therapists over time.

How to Manage Post-Covid Anxiety

Share
No
Gabrielle Avery Peck COVID Anxiety

“We should start thinking about looking at office spaces."

My colleague texts me one afternoon. “There are some great ones available!”

“Awesome!” I write back, the pit in my stomach growing bigger by the second. “It will be great to be with everyone in-person again!”

As the U.S. vaccination rate increases and COVID-19 rates decrease, the question on everyone’s mind is “When will things go back to normal?” Secondarily, a majority of people follow that question with “Why am I so nervous about returning to normal?”

The human body is a complex system, much of which runs without our direct guidance. One part of this system is your fight or flight response: the natural alarm system that your body has to protect you from possible danger, like from fires, hurricanes or bear attacks. Over time, your body’s alarm system learns more about what types of danger exists in the world and how to protect you from those dangers. What happens, then, when your body has been taught to be scared of something that is no longer inherently dangerous?

Over the last year and few months, we have been teaching our bodies to be conscious of stimuli that we previously ignored. We check for a mask before leaving the house, keep tabs on who is in our vicinity when out in public and sanitize our hands after touching multi-use items. We have avoided crowds of people and refrained from eating inside of restaurants. Before socializing with friends we ask questions related to the number of people that will be in attendance and question the mask-policy. Many of us have significantly reduced the amount of time we spend out of the house because our workplaces are now our home-offices.

Home is the ultimate safety signal. We come home and relax many of the behaviors we have learned to keep ourselves safe during the pandemic. We remove our masks, talk with our family members in close proximity and touch things without sanitizing. The comfort we feel at home, while satisfying, also reminds us of the danger lurking outside.

As we begin to consider a post-Covid existence, the messages we have given our bodies about the danger that exists in the world do not simply disappear. Our bodies do not know that eating in a restaurant is safe or dangerous—it learns whether or not it is safe or dangerous through our actions. Our bodies don’t inherently want us to put on a mask—we have taught our bodies to send out an alarm when a mask is not worn. Our behaviors over the past year have indicated to our internal alarms that a reaction is warranted in certain situations. The knowledge that the alarm is no longer necessary is not enough for our bodies to stop reacting.

Luckily, though, just as your body can learn to become afraid, we can also help it to learn that it does not need to be afraid in certain circumstances. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is the recommended treatment for anxiety-based disorders because of the way it helps individuals “unlearn” being afraid of certain things. ERP involves gradually exposing a person to feared stimuli, teaching the person that they are capable of handling the situation (and hopefully allowing them to gradually experience a decrease in the fear response). The same principles of ERP can help us as we re-enter the world.

Here are some tips for a gradual re-entry into a post-COVID world:

  1. Make a list of activities that you would like to start doing again or will need to start doing again. Rank them by level of stress or anxiety and start with the activity that is lowest on the list.
  2. Break down more anxiety-provoking activities into smaller steps. For example, if you have not eaten in a restaurant in a while, grab takeout and start by eating in a public place. Then get a drink outdoors somewhere, before working up to eating a full meal outside.
  3. When you are planning on doing something you have not done in a while, notice your thinking. Are you planning for the worst case scenario? Are you telling yourself it will be scary and hard? Our thinking has a huge impact on our experience. Focus on the present and try not to engage with worry thoughts. Thoughts are not facts!
  4. Acknowledge the uncertainty that still exists in the world. Nothing is certain! If your brain tries to give you a “what if” question (e.g. What if this isn’t safe?) you can answer yourself with: Maybe yes, maybe no! I am willing to be uncertain about this.
  5. Make sure to reward brave behaviors! If you are feeling anxious about going back into the office, make a plan to talk with a colleague you have missed or get a coffee mid-day as a reward for facing your discomfort.
  6. Seek support from friends and family. About half of Americans are apprehensive about returning to in-person interactions after the pandemic, according to a report from the American Psychological Association, which means that there is a strong chance the person you talk with may be able to validate and relate to your experience. Facing fears with a supportive person may reduce the level of anxiety associated with the situation.
  7. Seek support from a mental health professional. If you need help finding a therapist to speak with, the ADAA website is a great place to start! You can search through the therapist directory here.
     

Gabrielle Avery-Peck, PhD

Gabrielle Avery Peck

Dr. Avery-Peck received her Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University, a Master of Education in Counseling and Sport Psychology from Boston University and a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Boston University. She completed an APA Accredited predoctoral internship at Florida Atlantic University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Dr. Avery-Peck was trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy at the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program, a division of McLean Hospital’s Child and Adolescent Services.

Dr. Avery-Peck specializes in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders including Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Specific Phobia, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in children, adolescents, and adults. She emphasizes a collaborative approach, working with clients to understand their fears and encouraging them to become their own therapists over time.

Use of Website Blog Commenting

Use of Website Blog Commenting

ADAA provides this Website blogs for the benefit of its members and the public. The content, view and opinions published in Blogs written by our personnel or contributors – or from links or posts on the Website from other sources - belong solely to their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ADAA, its members, management or employees. Any comments or opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors only. Please remember that the open and real-time nature of the comments posted to these venues makes it is impossible for ADAA to confirm the validity of any content posted, and though we reserve the right to review and edit or delete any such comment, we do not guarantee that we will monitor or review it. As such, we are not responsible for any messages posted or the consequences of following any advice offered within such posts. If you find any posts in these posts/comments to be offensive, inaccurate or objectionable, please contact us via email at [email protected] and reference the relevant content. If we determine that removal of a post or posts is necessary, we will make reasonable efforts to do so in a timely manner.

ADAA expressly disclaims responsibility for and liabilities resulting from, any information or communications from and between users of ADAA’s blog post commenting features. Users acknowledge and agree that they may be individually liable for anything they communicate using ADAA’s blogs, including but not limited to defamatory, discriminatory, false or unauthorized information. Users are cautioned that they are responsible for complying with the requirements of applicable copyright and trademark laws and regulations. By submitting a response, comment or content, you agree that such submission is non-confidential for all purposes. Any submission to this Website will be deemed and remain the property of ADAA.

The ADAA blogs are forums for individuals to share their opinions, experiences and thoughts related to mental illness. ADAA wants to ensure the integrity of this service and therefore, use of this service is limited to participants who agree to adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Refrain from transmitting any message, information, data, or text that is unlawful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, that may be invasive of another 's privacy, hateful, or bashing communications - especially those aimed at gender, race, color, sexual orientation, national origin, religious views or disability.

Please note that there is a review process whereby all comments posted to blog posts and webinars are reviewed by ADAA staff to determine appropriateness before comments are posted. ADAA reserves the right to remove or edit a post containing offensive material as defined by ADAA.

ADAA reserves the right to remove or edit posts that contain explicit, obscene, offensive, or vulgar language. Similarly, posts that contain any graphic files will be removed immediately upon notice.

2. Refrain from posting or transmitting any unsolicited, promotional materials, "junk mail," "spam," "chain mail," "pyramid schemes" or any other form of solicitation. ADAA reserves the right to delete these posts immediately upon notice.

3. ADAA invites and encourages a healthy exchange of opinions. If you disagree with a participant 's post or opinion and wish to challenge it, do so with respect. The real objective of the ADAA blog post commenting function is to promote discussion and understanding, not to convince others that your opinion is "right." Name calling, insults, and personal attacks are not appropriate and will not be tolerated. ADAA will remove these posts immediately upon notice.

4. ADAA promotes privacy and encourages participants to keep personal information such as address and telephone number from being posted. Similarly, do not ask for personal information from other participants. Any comments that ask for telephone, address, e-mail, surveys and research studies will not be approved for posting.

5. Participants should be aware that the opinions, beliefs and statements on blog posts do not necessarily represent the opinions and beliefs of ADAA. Participants also agree that ADAA is not to be held liable for any loss or injury caused, in whole or in part, by sponsorship of blog post commenting. Participants also agree that ADAA reserves the right to report any suspicions of harm to self or others as evidenced by participant posts.

RESOURCES AND NEWS
Evidence-based Tips & Strategies from our Member Experts
RELATED ARTICLES
Block reference
TAKING ACTION
After viewing my art and story, I want others to understand that we are not alone in this and…

Advertisement