“I felt better when the country was shut down,” Deja M., a 30-year-old registered nurse living in a suburb north of Los Angeles, tells Vogue. “But I understand people need to go back to work. I’m just afraid there is going to be a second, even worse wave.”
Deja, who has anxiety, OCD, and asthma—putting her in the high-risk group for contracting COVID-19—says she has only been outside of her home a handful of times since her state started reopening. “I always think about what things that I may have to touch while out, or any potential points of transmission,” she says. “I make sure that I never leave home without my masks—I usually wear two masks, an N-95 mask and a cloth mask over it—gloves, disinfectant wipes, and disinfectant spray.” Since she suffered a miscarriage in the midst of the pandemic and has had to attend follow-up appointments alone, without her husband, her anxiety—which she says has always been part of her life—is now debilitating.
“I literally do not want to go out my front door,” she explains. “It took me two days to build up the courage to walk to my mailbox and go to the store to get my dog some dog food. I don’t think my anxiety will ever go away completely, but I hope to find a new normal for myself amidst this pandemic.”
Finding, or, perhaps more aptly, building, that “new normal” will take a substantial amount of time. As a mental-health professional who specializes in reproductive issues, I have spent my entire career listening to patients work through complex emotions to find healing after trauma in order to create a future that is more manageable than the overwhelming reality their anxieties construct. An anxiety disorder is not “shyness” and it is not something a person can just “get over.” The complications that arise from an anxiety disorder—like low self-esteem, negative self-talk, self-isolation, substance abuse, and poor social skills, as listed by the Mayo Clinic—can make it even more difficult for those suffering from an anxiety disorder to seek help and support.
Learning how to manage social anxiety as the country continues to reopen will be key to maintaining mental health, and that process will look different for people depending on their health history, circumstances, and past experiences. For some, medication, telehealth psychotherapy, and online support groups can prove beneficial. For others, simpler acts like mindfulness, meditation, exercise, keeping a journal to help document particular sources of stress and anxiety, and abstaining from drugs or alcohol can also help.