Post-pandemic anxiety: Why returning to normal may be as stressful as the pandemic itself

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – While most people will be thrilled when the time comes to unmask and end social distancing, some might be a bit more hesitant.  

In fact, some scientists are concerned about what they are calling “post pandemic anxiety.” The term is used to describe the stress people are feeling as the world heads back to normal. 

Masks have been a fixture this year. So has crossing the street to avoid crowds of pedestrians and staying six feet back from another’s shopping cart. And some people aren’t ready to let go of these behaviors just yet — even when restrictions are lifted and even if they’ve received their coronavirus vaccine. The driving fear, scientists say, is still the risk of infection. 

“If this last year has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future,” Dr. Jay Hamm, psychologist at Sandra Eskenazi Mental Health Center, said. “And we need to do what is healthy and best for us.” 

Hamm says even as things transition and recommendations to wear masks in public or socially distance are lifted, many people may still want to.

“We’ve all experienced the pandemic in different ways,” he said. “And we’re all going to be approaching this next phase differently than others. And that’s okay. If someone wants to keep wearing a mask [and practice social distancing] that will harm absolutely no one.”

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 6 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Facebook @DrMaryGillis and Instagram @reportergillis.