By Mary Coen

The good news is we’re getting back to normal: the CDC has lifted the mask mandate for all those who have been fully vaccinated and are two weeks beyond it. So the news this week goes, but…..some caution may be appropriate here and not just about throwing away all of our masks and hugging everyone we see. Along with our euphoria there may be some confusion, discomfort and even anxiety. Recognizing these as normal in ourselves and in others, especially in our children, can help us weather these unusual times.

We have just spent 14 months covering half of our faces and avoiding crowds. We may cognitively accept that it is now safe to be surrounded closely by people with their full faces exposed but be emotionally disconcerted by it. When we see full faces, we are exposed to the full range of human emotions, to welcomes and smiles, but also to less positive ones. We have learned over time to shield ourselves from too much input and that skill may have become rusty for some of us. Young children, for instance, may find this somewhat off-putting at first. Dealing again with crowds in many public places may try all of our patience.

During the last year we have learned to connect with the outside world primarily through devices, our phones, computers, etc. While this may have been confining and exasperating it did not require much purely physical output. But going outside and getting into a car or bus, traveling somewhere, then walking through a large grocery store and/or completing other numerous errands require some physical output. For some of us, especially those with age or medical conditions, this may be harder at first than we expect. We may also be once again at the mercy of outside expectations in filling up our calendars. Some activities that we have discovered or re-discovered while at home -gardening, cooking, playing with children, may be at risk of being squeezed out of our daily routine again. Caution: getting back to our pre-Covid pace of living may cause STRESS.

And then there is the “normal” part of getting back to normal: it won’t be last year’s normal. It will be a new one. While we were home many things out there changed and we may have to deal with some losses. Many stores, especially small specialty stores have gone out of business, and not all of their wares can be successfully substituted at Amazon. The joy of shopping (for some people this is a favorite pastime) is not likely to be the same as malls and down-town areas have lots of empty spaces. For people who still had to navigate the roads during the height of the pandemic one of the perks was less traffic. That is wistful memory once again. And going from no travel to daily traffic congestion for those of us recently released from home is big-time STRESS.

The upshot of COVID restrictions being relaxed is that all big changes, even those greatly-to-be-desired, can be hard to navigate. For all of us. There are uncertainties about the actual timing of rules being changed (Illinois restriction relaxation is pending), issues with medical directives as well as all the personal and familial scheduling changes coming. In this month of mental health awareness, it would be useful for all of us to understand that even good change can need caution. Take things slowly and watch for frustrations and anxieties and just plain tiredness in ourselves and those around us. Don’t set expectations so high that the inevitable setbacks become major downers. Recognize that whatever activities you found solace in during the last year are still valuable, and don’t apologize for making them a priority going forward.