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As more and more people get vaccinated, businesses and public spaces are starting to open up again. As the activities people enjoy start to come back, it can be a very exciting time. However, it can also be overwhelming to be in large crowds again after about 18 months of social distancing and isolation.

Tarah King, public relations and marketing manager at Thrive Peer Support in Cleveland, and Paul Markowicz, psychotherapist at CLE Therapy in Shaker Heights, said there are ways to re-immerse yourself into society as comfortably as possible.

“Anxiety is a normal and necessary part of human life,” Markowicz said. “Healthy anxiety keeps us growing and pushing towards our goals. Fearful anxiety alerts us when there may be danger we should try to avoid. For many, this virus has thrown our barometers out of whack.”

With so much conflicting information, Markowicz added, it is difficult to know how to behave. He added people are struggling with conflicted feelings about returning to the “outside world.” There is a lot of decision fatigue happening around whether or not to wear masks in certain environments, whether or not it feels safe to go certain places, and how to determine risk around social gatherings. For people with young children, elderly parents or the immunocompromised, these decisions get even more granular, he said.

Markowicz added many advantages of returning to “normal” life are obvious, such as enjoying recreational activities, seeing friends and family, and traveling. However, what stands out most to him is the need for social connection. As a therapist, he practices from a perspective that “we are hurt in relationship, so we must heal in relationship.”

“Many peoples’ relationships have suffered during this pandemic,” he said. “With certain areas of life opening up, people will have an opportunity to reconnect with others they care about and may have not kept in touch with. People will have an opportunity to heal by engaging with by discussing with others what made the past year and a half so hard, and for many traumatizing. Connection, whether that be with a family member, friend, or therapist, is so vital to the human experience.”

King said she thinks there is absolutely anxiety in returning to “normal” life. But certain things, she said, were building during quarantine and the pandemic when people couldn’t go out. She said they saw an increase in depression and substance use. Now, Thrive Peer Support is trying to let people know that there are services out there to help them as they’re getting reacclimated to a now “open world.”

“What Thrive does is we pair people with another person who has walked a similar path as they have,” King said. “Maybe they struggled with substance use, maybe they suffered from a mental health disorder. So being able to talk to somebody with that lived experience is incredibly beneficial, especially as we are coming out of the pandemic.”

King said their peer supporters teach them independence. The whole idea, King said, is that regardless of what stage of recovery you are in, there is support and Thrive can help you.

“Right now, we service the Medicaid population,” King said. “So, we can help people with housing, getting their driver’s license reinstated or building a resume. We can do all those types of things. But then, from the other standpoint, maybe from somebody who doesn’t need those types of services, we’re going to help you embrace all pathways to recovery. So, whatever that means for the person to help them move forward and be independent.”

Markowicz said there are some very simple ways people can shift their thinking to help ease the process of reintegrating to an in-person world.

“Most importantly, be easy on yourself,” Markowicz said. “If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or exhausted, you can honor that. You don’t have to go from zero to sixty. You get to decide what feels safe and comfortable for you. … If something doesn’t feel right, you are allowed to say no to it, or suggest a more comfortable alternative.”

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