Anxiety levels, as a whole, have increased during the pandemic. But now, as we are seeing a return to “normal”, pre-pandemic life, many are feeling anxious about what the future holds. The uncertainty of what is to come is uncomfortable for many.

A new poll from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation found that the mental health of nearly one in five older adults, worsened during the course of the pandemic. And more than one in four were found to be more anxious or worried than before the Covid-19 era.

On the plus side, the poll found long-term resilience in many older adults. More than 80% of older adults said their mental health is as good or better than it was 20 years ago. And another 29% said they have made positive lifestyle changes during the pandemic, such as exercise, diet, or meditation.

Experts have some ideas about what may be causing post-pandemic anxiety and some tips to ease that stress.

Covid-19 upended life as we knew it. For many, fear of contracting the virus, physical isolation and economic issues generated trauma.

Through the pandemic, places that used to be fun, such as restaurants or a family member’s home, have been considered unsafe. As more people become vaccinated, it will become less risky to step inside these places again. But there may remain a lingering notion that some of these places still feel like a “danger zone”.

A fear of public places or social anxiety may also stop many from wanting to go out in public.

Experts say there may be an issue when there are situations a person can not enter into and it causes dysfunction. For example, if an older adult is vaccinated and in a low positivity rate community, but still feels intense fear about going out, they may need help. The sooner older adults seek help, the sooner they can recognize that it is well within the range of a normal reaction to an incredibly abnormal situation. In the meantime, here are some ways to re-acclimate to our post-pandemic world.

Tips for coping:

  • Make incremental changes: Taking things slowly while following public health guidance can help you re-acclimate. Go out for an hour at a time or to run just one errand or for just 15-minutes of fresh air. Increase the time as you become more comfortable.
  • Assess the situation: Pay attention to what is different about the situation you may be in today versus a few months ago. Are you fully vaccinated? Are you still wearing a mask? That is a different situation than it was a few months ago or even a year ago.
  • Let others know what you are and are not comfortable with: A loved one may be eager to jump into pre-pandemic life, but you might not be ready. Be honest and upfront about your feelings. Being clear about what it will take for you to feel comfortable, such as everyone being fully vaccinated, is key.

As we enter this new phase of the pandemic, with most older adults getting vaccinated, it is important to make sure they also have adequate access to mental health screening and care to detect and address any lingering effects of this prolonged period of stress. And remember, there is never anything wrong with seeking treatment now, even if it feels pre-emptive.