It seems the moment we have all been waiting for has arrived. Texas has lifted the mask mandate, spring break raged on in Florida, and New York has issued the green light for the reopening of nightclubs and entertainment venues. Large-scale rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines, coupled with the recent decline in new coronavirus cases across the United States, is inching us toward reopening. So now what? While some people have eagerly expressed their enthusiasm to “return to the streets,” public opinion polls show that a sizable percentage of folks are holding fear and anxiety about returning to “normal.” A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that 49% of Americans feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interactions, and 46% said they don’t feel comfortable going back to their pre-pandemic lives.
I’m not going to lie, after over a year of self-isolation, the thought of bumping into people on the train or brushing up against sweaty dancing bodies makes me uncomfortable. While quarantine and the era of the coronavirus brought undeniable suffering, grief, and anxiety, they also presented us with unique opportunities to slow down, practice mindfulness with our time, and rediscover meaning in our day-to-day without external distractions. As the season of quarantine winds down, what do we want to bring with us into this next season?
Normalize social distancing and boundaries
I certainly miss occupying public places with other people, but I don’t miss the crowded restaurants, overfilled train cars, and cramped, small bars. For those of us living in cities across America, the daily invasion of personal space had become the norm. The mandates for social distancing and strict capacity limits that came as a response to Covid-19 have changed our perception of personal space. For some, the physical distance requirements came as a welcome reprieve from the all too familiar casual touch of our social conventions, such as shaking hands or hugging goodbye. While these encounters can be a mild inconvenience for some, for others aversion to touch might be rooted in social anxiety, low self-esteem, body issues, fear and trauma. Plus, it’s no secret that our perspectives on personal space are cultural. As our favorite shops and restaurants continue to reopen, let’s bring with us a new respect for personal boundaries. Let’s normalize asking people for consent before touching them and create more space (literally!) to allow others to communicate their personal boundaries.
Build class consciousness
One of the silver linings of this pandemic has been the long overdue recognition and praise of our essential workers. With the onset of Covid-19, those who had the privilege retreated to home offices and vacation homes, but those who had no other choice continued to show up for work and put their own lives at risk. Half a million deaths later, there is no denying how class impacts access to healthcare and safety, and how the most vulnerable communities are left bearing the highest risks. First responders, sanitation workers, farm workers, healthcare workers, and many other vital laborers have used this opportunity to lobby for their rights and push legislation that protects their wages and their safety. These workers were always essential, and the pandemic has forced us to reevaluate the value of work. After the posters are crumbled, the fundraisers are over, and we return to working life, don’t forget about those vital to our society’s well being.
Protect nature and our environment
One of the MVPs of the pandemic was our very own Mother Nature. Research shows that a brisk walk or even just exposure to nature can decrease blood pressure, stress hormones, and symptoms of anxiety and depression, while also improving mood, cognitive function, and empathy. With the widespread closing of establishments and places to gather, nature became the new hot spot. National parks across the country have noticed an increase in attendance and many people have even moved away from cities in pursuit of greener pastures.
I have developed a special appreciation for nature and its calming effects. Even just a stroll around my neighborhood can lift my whole mood, which is not the least bit surprising now that I have rediscovered a host of physical and emotional benefits of just walking. So, it is not lost on me that in order to keep reaping the benefits of nature and all its extraordinary healing capabilities, we must protect our planet. My appreciation for nature during the pandemic has awakened a new sense of environmental responsibility. As indoor venues begin to reopen, don’t forget about the nature that gave us space when there was none. Challenge yourself to think of ways you can contribute to climate justice in your everyday life.
As the world reopens, no matter where you sit on the spectrum of comfortability with returning to social life and its conventions, you have a right to feel safe and healthy. Frankly, we all benefit from making more space for people with different abilities and capacities. We have survived an exhausting and scary collective experience, and our individual paths to healing and acclimation will look different. So, whether it is enforcing stricter personal boundaries or retreating to nature for relief, take what brought you joy from quarantine life and carry it forward to ground you.