Coming out of COVID

As more Americans get the COVID-19 vaccine and more social restrictions are lifted, Americans can see the pandemic’s end in sight. But are we ready to live in a post-COVID world?

“While many people are anxious to return to their former lives, they should not expect to pick up exactly where they left off,” says Dr. Olivia Okereke, a psychiatrist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “We don’t know how this new reality will look and feel, at least in the short term, so it’s a good idea to begin preparing mentally and emotionally for returning to a sense of normalcy.”

People need to be mindful that the pandemic is not over, and there are always concerns about yet another wave. Still, this transition period is an opportunity to revisit old challenges, manage new ones, and refocus on areas that fell away during the pandemic.

“Some things will go back to how they were, but other parts of your life will likely change forever,” says Dr. Okereke. “There is a good chance that you will have to redefine what you consider ‘normal.’”

Here are some issues she suggests people address during this transition.

It’s okay to be cautious

Some people can’t wait to socialize, travel, and resume regular activities. But don’t be in a hurry, if you are not ready, especially if you have not completed COVID vaccination.

“A post-COVID world is an evolving space with no timeline,” says Dr. Okereke. “Resist the pressure to jump back into your previous lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with taking a cautious approach and moving at a comfortable pace.”

Find your social space

It’s quite reasonable to hold off on indoor dining and attending events with large crowds. Start small. For instance, have lunch or coffee with a friend in an open space. Go for a bike ride with a small group, or try an indoor endeavor with only a few people. “As you feel more confident, slowly expand your social outreach, but don’t be afraid to take a step back when needed,” says Dr. Okereke.

Check on your mental health

Depression and anxiety were common among older adults before the pandemic, and they may have worsened over the past year. There also may be new emotional challenges, perhaps from coping with the deaths of family members and friends from COVID, survivor’s guilt, or adapting to persistent post-COVID symptoms.

“Use this time as a chance to examine any problems you struggle with, and consider getting counseling or joining a support group,” says Dr. Okereke.

Keep up your connections

One bright spot of the pandemic is that many older adults have found new connections via Zoom with friends and family, physically distanced neighborhood get-togethers, and even home delivery services for groceries and prescriptions. “These probably are your strongest relationships right now, so continue to embrace them,” says Dr. Okereke. “You may find they enrich your life in ways other interactions never did.”

Restart key health behaviors

Essential health maintenance like adequate sleep, healthy diet, and regular exercise and relaxation may have dropped off during the past year. Devote time to re-establishing healthy habits. For example:

Sleep structure. Set up a sleep routine to get your needed rest. (Adults ages 65 and older need seven to eight hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation.)

Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime, give yourself time to prepare for bed (bathing, brushing teeth), and invest in a sound machine (a bedside device that produces calming tunes like nature sounds and white noise; smart speakers offer similar sounds). Take a 20- to 30-minute nap at the same time each afternoon, if needed. “Getting proper sleep is essential now, as you need to be well rested for your new post-COVID ventures,” says Dr. Okereke.

Meal calendar. Plan out your meals for the week. Prepare some ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator or freezer. Set specific times to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “This kind of structure can help you focus on your nutrition and cut down on snacking,” says Dr. Okereke.

Exercise dates. If you are not ready to return to the gym or group classes, make appointments to exercise. Schedule a morning home workout or make exercise dates with a friend to walk, hike, or cycle.

Me time. Devote about 20 minutes every day to rest, relax, and restore. Read, listen to music or a podcast, meditate, or do whatever helps you to decompress.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24

 “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” – Proverbs 12:25

 “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” – Luke 12:25

 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11

 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

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