FEAR OF UNMASKING –   

June 30, 2021 – That’s not all. Violent crime is up, historic heat waves are devastating areas of the country not prepared to cope, and mental health practitioners can’t keep up with the demand for services.

“I think for many people this ‘return to normal’ feels awfully abrupt and jarring,” Carpenter said, adding that the pandemic has been an incredibly difficult period, “with lots of opportunity for confusion, for disagreement, and for discord.” 

She continued, “It’s a real mixed bag. While many will experience much of this reopening as positive, there is a subset of people that will really struggle with how to move out of this very challenging time.”  “When your frontal lobe is tired from doing emotional regulation on steroids for a year and a half, you’re not as good at it,” she added. “You could even be at your breaking point.”

If, however, you find yourself giddy with relief and ready to act as if there was no pandemic to worry about, that too makes neurological sense, said Dr. Bruce Wexler, a senior research scientist in psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

“Humans are the only animals that shape the environment that shapes our brains and we function and feel better when there’s a fit between the two,” said Wexler, who has studied brain plasticity for more than 35 years.

“Every day we strive to renew ourselves by reconnecting with the familiar faces and places that shaped us and are inside of us. That’s one of the reasons people were so agitated about wanting to go back to their favorite bars and hangouts,” Wexler added.

When he realized that motivation, Wexler said, “I had more sympathy for the people who were complaining ‘Open up, open up!’ I could understand their urgency.” 

Safely getting back to normal, in whatever shape that currently looks like, will require being fully vaccinated and adhering to the latest social distancing requirements of local communities and businesses, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Coping with anxiety, tension or worry about risky pandemic behaviors — both our own and those of other people — will take a combination of self-care and compassion, experts say.

“We all have to give ourselves a little grace,” Carpenter said. “It’s really important that we try not to judge ourselves for our emotional response to this change. This is objectively really stressful and to have some combination of relief, happiness, fear, or maybe even some anger and frustration is normal.”

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