Pandemic and Mental Health

A New “New Normal”?

In March 2020, we were faced with the inconceivable news that we were experiencing the start of a global pandemic. Not long after hearing this news, we were all asked to make the transition to remote work and school in order to effectively social distance and reduce transmission of the virus. This transition changed the way that most of us operate in our daily lives: it changed the way that we learn, work, socialize, communicate, play, and even the modality of our medical/therapy appointments. Adjusting to these changes was challenging to say the least, and many people saw a worsening of their mental and physical health as evidenced by increased anxiety, increased depression, loneliness and isolation, increased substance abuse, relationship conflicts, and changes in sleeping and eating patterns to name just a few. But in spite of all of these challenges, you did not give up. You adapted to the “new normal,” made adjustments, and pushed through difficult times to settle into a different routine.

Now, it seems, just as we’ve gotten used to one way of life, we are being asked to make yet another transition. With virus infection rates and death rates going down, restrictions are being lifted, businesses are opening, and in-person activities and socialization are expanding. What we at CAPS want you to know is that it is not only OK, but also perfectly normal to feel anxious about this new transition. Having to engage with people in person, after spending long stretches of time alone, with reduced social interaction that mostly took place through a computer screen, may feel stressful and anxiety-producing for some. Since social skills are like a muscle that needs to be exercised, we may feel awkward or uncomfortable communicating in person.

Additionally, many of us have also gotten used to a more relaxed schedule with extra time saved from commuting, being in the comfort of our own homes, and not always getting dressed in the same way we would if we were in public. Starting up again with more of a structured, professional, time-focused routine may take some getting used to. Alternatively, there are those of you who feel excited and ready for these changes. In fact, most people will likely experience a range of emotions, some of them even conflicting. So what can you do to help ease your transition?

Tips for Adjusting to Life after COVID

Be Patient and Kind to Yourself: As we said, some anxiety and nervousness is normal during any transitional period. Try not to be critical of yourself if you are feeling this way, and give yourself space and time to adjust. It took time to develop your current habits throughout lockdown, and it will take time to develop new ones again.

Plan Ahead: With any situation that might cause some anxiety, such as the first day at a new job or school, it is smart to be prepared. This can look like anything from planning your outfit the night before, packing everything you might need, and reviewing your schedule and room location, to coming up with a list of conversation topics for socializing with friends and having an action plan in place if you feel overwhelmed.

Challenge Yourself by Taking Small Steps: The only way to adjust to a new situation is to face it head on. The more we do things that make us nervous, the more used to them we become; this is the basic principle behind exposure therapy. That being said, go at a pace that you are comfortable with. Step outside of your comfort zone a little bit at a time, until you feel ready for the next step.

Develop Resilience: One thing that we’ve learned thanks to COVID-19 is that life can be filled with uncertainty. One of the best ways to manage uncertainty is to build your resilience. Resilience is the grit that helps us get through tough times and setbacks; it’s the mindset that challenges are opportunities for growth and that skills can be developed and learned. Resilience allows us to focus on what is in our control and not be as negatively affected by what is out of our control.

Incorporate Self Care: Self-care is always a good idea, no matter what the current state of the world. Life can be hectic, and we sometimes get so caught up in work, school, household responsibilities, etc. that we put our own needs on the back burner. Now more than ever, we need to be able to take care of ourselves through nourishing our bodies, getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, getting exercise, incorporating creativity, and embracing fun.

Seek Support: One of the hallmarks of resilience is knowing when to ask for help. No one is expected to handle everything on their own, so lean on friends, family, mentors and communicate when you’re having a hard time. You may just find that others are experiencing similar difficulties. And counseling is always a great option when all else fails.

Remember, life is always filled with challenges and they point the way towards what we need to focus on and work towards. For more guidance look through the links below, and know that we are here to assist you.

Students please read!

Due to the changing landscape caused by COVID-19 and variants, CAPS services delivery could change to reflect University policies created in response to federal, state, and local guidance so please call CAPS at (201) 761-6420 to get up to date information on our services.

More Resources

Mental Health Screening Tools

The Steve Fund is dedicated to supporting the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color.

NJ Mental Health Cares Helpline: 1-866-202-HELP (4357) for free, confidential support from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

The Impact COVID-19

Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 & Transitioning to In-Person Life

Reconnecting after COVID-19

The Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP) Hope and Healing Program Resources

These resources are brought to you through the New Jersey Hope and Healing Crisis Counseling Program. The program offers free services to help NJ residents cope with stress related to the pandemic.

Website with content created by GSAPP, in video, flyer/tip sheet, and PowerPoint formats.

YouTube channel with some asynchronous webinars, including specific programs.