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  • Writer's pictureDena Lampert

How To Feel Safe Again In This New Version of Normal

It has been a crazy few months, but after months of lockdown, it looks like our sacrifice is slowly paying off. The number of new daily cases in New York is steadily decreasing, and businesses are gradually reopening. Despite the rising numbers of cases in other states and the politicizing of this virus, New Yorkers seem to remain vigilant in maintaining our safety and the safety of others. As a result, our numbers remain low and things are getting back to normal.


Such a boring concept once—normal—is a loaded word now. Normal, much like the world, doesn’t look like it used to. We can go out, but we can’t be too close to one another. Face coverings and masks are essential accessories, and hand sanitizers are everywhere you look.


Many people are experiencing trouble adjusting to this new normal, and choosing to stay home has become a new way of life. Some have chosen to stay indoors because they’re afraid they’ll get infected and seriously ill. And this is understandable, up to a point, for high-risk groups.


But for others, something simply doesn’t feel right anymore when they leave the house. Being around other people makes them feel uneasy, even suffocated. Being away from home feels weird and unsafe. These feelings are expected after months of isolation. Not having left your house in months can make the world seem like a strange place. How can we get to a point where this feeling subsides.


In today’s post, we’re going to look at the negative effects of isolating yourself for an extended period. We’ll also share tips that will help you overcome anxiety and uneasiness so that you can return to the outside world and build that feeling of safety again.


The negative impact of isolating yourself


People aren’t wired to live in isolation. Even sworn introverts and homebodies need to engage in social interactions. Being an unnatural condition, isolation takes its toll on our mental and physical health.


The most common mental health problems associated with isolation are depression and anxiety. Although depression and anxiety don’t appear out of nowhere, they’re likely to resurface or worsen during a crisis. People with symptoms of mental illness might have taken several steps back in their progress, as staying at home makes it easy to fall right back into avoidant behavior patterns.


That said, all of us might be experiencing anger, irritability, stress, and low mood, even if we have no history of mental health problems. And this makes sense. Being isolated means you don’t see your friends and family, you’re not in touch with nature, and you’re not doing the things you enjoy.


As for our physical health, isolation can cause insomnia and alter our metabolism. Steve Cole, a UCLA researcher who studies the physiological effects of loneliness, has found that loneliness triggers the body’s immune system to increase its inflammatory response[1]. That response is useful for fighting off bacterial infections, but it also creates what he calls a “fertilizer” for other diseases. He mentions that the most important aspect in fighting disease is “staying connected to purpose and meaning in your life”. How do you define the purpose and meaning in your life?


Practical tips for staying safe


The official guidelines for staying safe during the reopening haven’t changed dramatically. Here’s what you can do to stay safe around other people, according to the WHO:

  • Stay at home if you feel sick. Your first concern should be to keep everyone around you safe, so self-isolate if you experience mild fever, cough, or headache.

  • Maintain a social distance (6 feet). Keeping this distance mitigates the risk of breathing in or transmitting contaminated droplets. Also, WEAR A MASK!

  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. These three are the most common points of entry for coronavirus.

  • Wash your hands regularly. Your hands are exposed to germs and viruses, which you later transfer on surfaces and your face. You can either wash your hands with soap or clean them using an alcohol-based sanitizer.

  • Avoid overly crowded places. Maintaining a social distance in overly crowded places is difficult, so the risk of infection or transmission is higher.


Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Principles to Feel Safe Again


When following the advice above isn't enough to help you feel safe and ease your anxiety, you can try following a couple of tips based on the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.


Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?


CBT is a type of psychotherapy that can help those who are overwhelmed by repetitive, negative thoughts and people who, due to these thoughts, have developed avoidance behaviors to reduce negative feelings associated with the thoughts.


More specifically, CBT states that situations, thoughts, physical feelings, emotions, and actions are all interconnected and affect one another. What you do affects how you feel and think, and vice versa. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones and exposing yourself to situations that cause you anxiety will change the way you think and feel about that situation.


Let’s look at an example based on the Coronavirus pandemic. The situation (or event) is hearing about Coronavrius on the news. This gets you thinking you’ll get infected, which makes you feel fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety then trigger a cascade of negative thoughts, which can escalate beyond reason such as: What if I catch it and die? How are my children going to grow up without a mother? They’ll get depressed and quit school.


Your emotions and thoughts can cause physiological symptoms, such as frequent headaches and insomnia. “Naturally,” you’ll want to stay indoors to avoid getting infected. But then another vicious cycle starts. The longer you stay indoors, the harder it is for you to go out again, and that can lead to feelings of depression.


It’s easy to get sucked into feelings of fear and anxiety. The three tips below will help you overcome negative thoughts and let go of avoidant behaviors before your fear grows stronger than you.


Identify your thought patterns


This is your starting point. Untangle your thoughts and make sense of your emotions by keeping a journal. Identify the event, the emotions it triggered, and the thoughts that followed. For example, you heard that cases in Florida are on the rise (event), so you began to feel anxious (emotions), and decided that “the virus will come back, there’s no escape” (thought).


Replace negative thoughts with positive ones


Next, write down something positive, like: “If I follow the guidelines, I’ll be safe,” “the virus is under control. I should go for a walk with a friend on such a lovely day.” Similarly, if you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, pause, and think of something positive instead.


Avoid...avoidance


Avoidance feeds off fear and anxiety in the short run, however, it will only serve to perpetuate the fear in the long run. It’s important that you go out even if you feel some discomfort. Start slow, by visiting friends and family for example. Gradually stay out longer and visit more “high-risk” places, like a local grocery store, the hairdresser’s, or a restaurant.


In New York, we hope that the worst is behind us, even though other parts of the country are struggling. Months of shelter-in-place might have left you feeling “comfortably numb,” but as New Yorkers it’s time to start making your way back out there and start enjoying life again (even if it’s with a mask on and standing 6 feet away from everyone). If anything, we all deserve it after having done our part in keeping everyone safe.



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