Opinion: Experiencing Anxiety in a Post-Covid World
This is a tough topic to grapple with, but one I feel deserves far more attention than it's currently getting. It was only until recently when I started bringing this topic up with girlfriends that I realised how many were silently struggling with anxiety in a post-covid world, how real of a problem it is and how debilitating it can feel, affecting not just your mood and friendships, but your family life too. The mind and mood you bring to your home is powerful, so this is a topic worth shedding more light on.
How did we end up here? See, what happened in lockdown was the world stood still. For the first time in a very long time (probably since childhood) you no longer had to think about social norms and social constructs. You no longer had to expend energy whether conscious or subconscious, scrolling mindlessly on Instagram, wondering why X was at a dinner with Y, but you know both X and Y and you spoke to X and Y yesterday, yet they didn't mention it. For the first time in a very long time, you no longer had to spend any mental energy considering who to invite, or whether someone would be offended, or who was doing what and with whom. Covid bought a lot of discomfort and pain, but the inkling of light it had was the mental respite and the mental freedom to just be and to not expend mental energy thinking about what was going on in the lives of others - because we all knew nothing was going on. We could plan the day, without social constructs of school or social obligations. Plan what you wanted to eat because you had so much time in the house. Plan what you wanted to do with your kids, given your unique circumstances, or your work situation. Whilst Covid was undeniably tragic for so many millions who lost loved ones, the one positive it did bring was the opportunity to live in a social media fueled world, without feeling left out or left behind. For me, this meant social media became a beacon of creativity and I was much more conscious of the content I was consuming, because the majority was for a particular activity we were doing at home.
Fast forward a year later, and Covid seems to be fading into the background. Social constructs and groups have changed. New friendships have formed. People, after hand-picking who their Covid bubble was, suddenly woke up and realised they had so many "friends" they never saw in a year, and then were left to question, "are we really friends, if we didn't make the effort to meet once in a full 9 months, whilst I met many others?" To some extent, we are all grappling with these sorts of questions right now. The world woke up, and we've had to adapt quicker than ever to a social life again and social obligations. And it occurred to me that the knee-jerk reaction from going from zero to 100 (real quick) has been anxiety-inducing. As a person who has never dealt with anxiety before, let me tell you, that telling someone they have no reason to feel anxious, is like telling an anorexic person they aren't fat. It's a very real problem if it's yours, and only you can fully understand the extent of it. Suddenly, and it felt like it was overnight, people no longer had the same social etiquette. It was ok to offend because "only 6 people allowed." And to some extent, everyone was guilty of this behaviour, because we all got to decide who was important to us, so accepting that you are not as important to somebody as you once were, or as you hoped to be, can be uncomfortable, and in turn lead to social anxiety.
If there is anything I've learned from these isolating and uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, is that speaking up makes a world of difference. At the end of the day, we are all human and remembering that we go through similar emotions is important. Talking openly about anxiety also helps normalise it and makes the problem feel less isolating. If you want to cultivate and maintain certain friendships in your life, you need to put in the work. And if you see the same effort is not being reciprocated you have two choices. One: be comfortable with the level of energy you expend and the level of reciprocation, accepting that everyone's capacity to give you time may not match your own, or two: take a step back. There are so many occasions where I've been told "If someone makes less effort than you, then take a step back." And you know what? I think that's not always the best way to go. If you want somebody in your life, you can show them you want them in your life. Speaking up in situations where you feel you've been wronged or left out, can sometimes do a world of good and clear the fog in your head that often comes from overthinking. once you get insight into someones intentions - it can allow you to eradicate days sometimes weeks of overthinking, so never underestimate the power of telling people how you feel.
After a lot of thinking about this topic, I've come to the conclusion that the only friendships not worth investing in are those where your fundamental values as humans just do not add up. Those are what I call "red flag friendships" - not good for your mind, body, or soul. Everyone has different red flags because every person has different values. And a powerful lesson I've been taught in a post-covid anxiety fueled world is to spend more time learning who my green-flag humans are. The ones who lift me up, the ones who empower me to be my most authentic self, the ones who inspire me, and above all, make me want to be a better version of myself. It takes years to find these humans, but a green-flag human is better than 100 mediocre friendships, that's for sure.
I'm so interested to hear more about how you're experience post-pandemic has been. Have you struggled with anxiety? Do you feel a little more lost navigating your social circle? Hit me up, I always love to hear from you.