Learning to adjust to life after the pandemic is similar in many ways to the adjustment of life at the end of active treatment. In both cases, you go from a state of constant surveillance to reacclimating into society.
With those shifts can come anxiety, fear, and many stages of rediscovery. So, how do you cope while the world keeps moving forward?
Here are some lessons I learned during active treatment that may also help you cope with reopening anxiety.
Learn to live with fear
After my active treatment, I struggled with a great fear of recurrence for many months.
Working with a therapist, I was introduced to the concept of fear playing different roles in our lives as we heal. At the beginning, fear may be in the front seat controlling every decision.
For many of us, this was how we operated during the pandemic. Over time, as we heal and the situation improves, fear may move to the back seat: still a part of our decision making, but not the only factor.
In time, fear will move to the trunk or be found trailing behind us in the rearview. It may never leave us, but we learn to live with it.
I imagine life after the pandemic will follow a similar trajectory as the fear of the virus dissipates. It may never be gone completely, but it will control us less.
Show yourself grace
At the end of chemotherapy, I was overcome with fear about the change itself. I was uncomfortable and then, adding on a layer of guilt to the discomfort, berated myself for feeling uncomfortable.
I felt similarly as things reopened in my state.
Recognize that after more than a year of quarantining and extreme vigilance, it’s completely normal to feel uncomfortable, fearful, and awkward.
Show yourself grace as you reenter society and find a balance that feels best to you.
Remember that your level of comfort can be different from someone else’s
After my breast cancer diagnosis, I learned that setting boundaries is an important way of practicing self-love.
Just like people in active treatment will have varying levels of comfort with and energy for socializing, it’s completely normal to be on varying levels of the spectrum when it comes to reengaging after lockdown.
shows that cancer patients are at increased risk of COVID-19, after all. Plus, experts aren’t sure whether a history of cancer increases your risk of severe illness, and that uncertainty can be unsettling.
No matter where you are in your cancer journey and what your choice is regarding vaccination, you are in control of your choices.
If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask whether or not it’s required, do it. If you feel better only socializing with vaccinated friends and family, do that. By creating and verbalizing those boundaries, you’ll feel more in control.
If you have specific questions about what is best for you, use your care team for the most up-to-date health guidelines. Each person’s cancer treatment is slightly different. Your unique diagnosis and treatment may lend to different guidance in terms of socialization, mask wearing, and vaccinations.
Accept it will take time to find a new normal
After my active treatment, I was anxious to find a new normal. Yes, that phrase is cliché, but it describes the reality so well.
What once felt normal no longer will, and you can’t go back. Just like with a cancer diagnosis, you’ll never fully be the same person you were before the pandemic. It has changed us. But that can be a good thing.
Take this time to reflect on how it changed you. Did you reprioritize people or routines in your life? Did you change jobs or find a new hobby?
By taking the time to reflect, you’ll likely find some level of acceptance for where you are now mentally, physically, and emotionally.
It may take time to get into a new groove of socializing, traveling, and physical interaction again, but maybe you’ll find your new normal is better than before.
I know for me, I now approach social settings with intention and better protect my time and energy.
You are not alone
Wherever you are in your journey of post-pandemic recovery, remember you are not in this alone. You’re healing from a great shift in your life, just as you did following your cancer diagnosis.
Show yourself grace and lean on those around you navigating this same situation. Your pace of reacclimation is your own, and there’s so much joy waiting for you around the corner.