Psychologist: Feelings of stress and anxiety increase during next phase of pandemic

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taking off mask(WBAY)
Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 3:54 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Now that we’ve entered this next phase of the pandemic where masks are no longer required for vaccinated people in certain scenarios, some may feel anxious or uneasy getting back to a more normal routine.

“It took some time to get used to wearing a mask,” said Shilagh Mirgain, a UW Health psychologist. “We’ve done this for overf a year. It’s going to take some time to get used to, if you’re vaccinated, not wearing a mask.”

Mirgain said it may not be easy for everyone to shift their mindset again so quickly.

“Masks have been a security blanket for us in the most tangible way that we have to see that we’re protecting ourselves against the virus and they work,” said Mirgain. “So we’re seeing that a lot of people are feeling a sense of feeling uncomfortable or unease about this phase of the pandemic.”

Mirgain said people should take it slow, without judging one another about mask wearing.

‘Really give yourself permission to just take it at your own time. You might do little experiments like you might go outside with a friend who’s vaccinated, if you’re vaccinated, and not wear a mask or maybe you go indoors with the loved one and you’re both vaccinated and not wear a mask,” said Mirgain.

She said you’re not alone in feeling this way. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 ‘Stress in America’ report, over half of Americans report feeling uneasy about life returning back to normal.

“A significant source of stress is this fear of going out or FOGO,” said Mirgain “Before the pandemic, many people had fear of missing out, or FOMO, but we’re finding at this point of the pandemic that people are afraid and nervous about going out and having those in person interactions.”

We may also be a little out of practice when it comes to our social skills.

“That is just part of where we’re at, but again, just practice approaching normalizing it because others too are going to feel quite awkward, especially for young children. They’ve missed out on some of those in-person interactions where they would have developed pre-pandemic some normal natural social skills so it’s going to be important to go out and practice and re-engage,” said Mirgain.

U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, said the isolation many felt over the past year is leading to a new epidemic of loneliness.

“That loneliness is linked to not only increases in depression and anxiety, but shorter lifespans, to increase in premature death, increase incidences of dementia to sleep disturbances and so many other conditions,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Both Dr. Murthy and Mirgain say relationships with each other may help us all move forward again.

“We’re in this transition time where there is going to be a lot of stress, anxiety and uncertainty and you’re not alone,” said Mirgain.

“If we can get people to see themselves as agents of that healing through the power of their relationship then I think we have a good shot at address some of the deep trauma that so many have experienced in our country,” Dr. Vivek Murthy.

If you find that your stress and anxiety is impacting your life and making it difficult to function at work or at home, Mirgain suggests you seek professional help.

“I encourage you to contact a behavioral health specialist who can really help you develop some additional coping strategies to manage the anxiety, so you can really flourish in your life again,” said Mirgain.

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