As of mid-April 2021, more than 23 million vaccines have been administered in California and the state’s Covid-19 positivity rate was 1.5%. Currently, California’s 1.5% positivity rate is not only at its lowest since the pandemic began; it’s also the lowest positivity rate in the nation. This is welcome news indeed – especially on the heels of the holiday season, when Los Angeles County became an epicenter for the virus. As California plans to completely re-open by June 15th and has expanded vaccine eligibility to anyone age 16 or older, we seem to be glimpsing a light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel.
There is so much to consider as we re-emerge and discuss returning to the office, the classroom, indoor dining and more. Sometimes, these changes appear to be happening rather quickly. Or are they? Are we moving too fast or just fast enough? Is it safe to reclaim some of our pre-pandemic norms, or is it reckless to think those norms still exist? Has our very understanding of how to pace and prioritize life changed and, if so, is the change for the better or for the worse? Does anyone else’s head hurt when they start to grapple with these questions?
Quite a bit has been written lately about the prospect of symptoms of trauma and PTSD that may be correlated to the Covid-19 pandemic. As Forbes states in a recent article, “Covid-19 has unleashed and amplified a number of simultaneous personal, social, medical, political, and economic crises… It is likely that an unprecedented amount of people have and will experience PTSD related to the effects of Covid-19.” Common signs of PTSD include symptoms such as avoiding activities that are triggering, increased difficulty with sleep, and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. When considering these examples, many of us can relate to similar feelings as we consider re-entry, or can see these signs in others. As eating disorder treatment professionals, we’d be remiss not to mention another layer of complication: traumatic events often precede the development and maintenance of an eating disorder or a struggle with substances.
So, how do we begin to go to make sense of all we’ve experienced? How do we cope with these new emotions and fears – very valid fears in light of the catastrophic collective trauma of illness and death – as we also attempt to move on? Here are a few suggestions to frame your reflections and re-entry.
Stick to the facts:
Keep track of the statistics in your state. Vaccination, hospitalization, infection and death rates give us insight into how local governments are approaching reopening, and can help guide decisions for yourself and your family. Also, make note of the preventative measures still in place within your community and adhere to those guidelines. Re-opening is not an “all or nothing” endeavor. Personal choices like handwashing, spending time outdoors when possible, and mask wearing play an important role in reducing disease transmission.
Decide what changes you want to hold onto:
Covid-19 has shifted our perspective on many things. From a professional lens, our newfound ability to accommodate remote work on a vast scale begs us to consider why we have not done so, collectively, for disabled people and others who needed these same accommodations for many years. Ditto for staying home when sick, and providing people with the paid time off to recuperate, instead of promoting a mentality that we are worthless if we are not working. Double ditto for wearing a mask when ill. Other countries have practiced mask wearing in this way for years, and we all know we can expect to be asked to mask up at the doctor’s office if we walk in with flu-like symptoms.
Define your goals and priorities:
Making a priorities list can help you structure how you approach re-opening, and make it feel more manageable. For example, if you want to prioritize more time with family, what steps do you – and your loved ones – need to take to make that time together safe and comfortable for all? Some people are itching to travel again above all else. Where can you go? What is the safest way to get there? When would you like to go? What are the safety precautions and positivity rates at your destination, and what is your timeline for making a decision? Being thoughtful and organized can help alleviate anxiety when the choices feel like too much
Talk it out:
We cannot stress this enough. Communicate with those around you, every step of the way. Talk to your place of employment about accommodations and expectations. Talk to your family and friends about your worries. Talk to your therapist about coping strategies. Talk to yourself – yes, yourself! Use affirmations, mantras, and self-compassion as you navigate the challenges of your decisions. Howl at the moon if it helps! And don’t be afraid to ask questions or to change your mind.
Undoubtedly, the topic of re-entry will be a highly personal one for each of us. Just as every individual defined their unique boundaries and comfort zones throughout the pandemic, each of us will emerge with a unique set of emotions and priorities. The pandemic has shown us the importance of respecting one another in our individual responses. Let’s extend some grace to our re-entries.