Millions of Americans are now getting vaccinated against Covid-19 every day, pushing us a little closer all the time toward the end of the pandemic. At the same time, however, infections are on the rise in multiple states—and the anxiety the virus has induced in so many of us doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.
A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) marking the first anniversary of the pandemic found that about 49% of adults feel nervous thinking about going back to normal once the virus is under control—because what does normal even mean anymore? A similar number (46%) said they would likely never go back to living life the same way they did before the pandemic, regardless of whether they'd been vaccinated or not.
That may sound dramatic to some, but there is certainly reason for caution right now. As of this week, health officials said that infections were increasing in 21 states despite the huge vaccination effort. Experts are largely blaming the spike on two things: the spread of coronavirus variants, and states moving too quickly to re-open.
One group of Americans has another reason to dread re-opening and the so-called return to normal—reasons not altogether tied to rising infection rates. Those who suffer from social anxiety may have found the world much easier to navigate when working, going to school, and even socializing were all done online. Denver-based psychologist Andrea Maikovich-Fong told the New York Times she's worried about how her patients with social anxiety will cope going forward. That anxiety "is going to come back with a vengeance when the world opens up," she said.
Dr. Lynn Bufka of the APA agreed that navigating the end of the pandemic won't be easy, telling USA Today that Americans should take comfort in the fact that so many of us are feeling the same fears and hesitations. "We should expect that there's going to be some period of time when how we respond to the world around us is going to be different, where we're going to potentially feel like this is... awkward," she said.
The APA's survey concludes that while the number of Americans feeling anxious and stressed by the pandemic—and even by looking ahead to a post-pandemic world—is alarming, it can be turned around. "While the situation is critical, it is not hopeless," the report said. "The U.S. response to this crisis... requires large, systemic changes by health leaders and policymakers. We need to facilitate access to mental health services during and after the pandemic, including an expansion of congressional pandemic relief efforts that include substantial funding for mental health services and support," it said. "Even before the COVID-19 pandemic turns the corner, we need to invest in helping Americans recover mentally and physically, making us stronger for the future."
Though that future may be filled with a lot of uncertainty right now, it's also well worth stepping into—and finally leaving the pandemic in the past.