Getting used to 'life after the vaccine'
With every day that passes, the number of people in the UK who’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 rises. This is naturally being celebrated as a sign of hope that the pandemic can be brought under control, and a step forward to freedom from the restrictions we’ve been under. Going back out into the world again may bring about a host of different feelings, thoughts and emotions. We’ll all be at different stages and in different places in our minds – whether we’re vaccinated ourselves or not.
Some of us will probably feel safer and more relaxed about getting out and mixing with others. Some will be very confident, and keen to have as much social interaction as they can – perhaps they hugged everyone they knew as soon as the restrictions permitted it!
Others may feel that everything still seems very uncertain. There are many unknowns that remain, both around the virus and the vaccine, and while the risk is lower than it was it certainly hasn’t gone away. Not everyone will be fully vaccinated, of course – either because they haven’t had their appointments yet, or because they can’t or don’t wish to have the jab.
Some individuals will be extremely nervous, either of catching the virus or of passing it to those who are unprotected, or feel anxious at the thought of being out in social situations around people again. They probably wish there was a human-sized version of the jackets worn by nervous dogs that say ‘I need space’!
There will also be people who feel immensely frustrated that things are still far from normal. While we’re so far through the vaccination programme, we’re still required to follow various measures such as wearing face coverings, practising social distancing, sanitising our hands and taking regular lateral flow tests.
How we’re feeling will depend on our thoughts about what’s happening right now, and how we interpret it. Tuning into how we’re thinking and feeling, and being aware of how others around us are thinking and feeling, will help us all to navigate through life following the vaccine.
Understand what’s behind your feelings. If you’re feeling anxious, for example, try and figure out why. Is it a fear around the virus? Are you fearful about being back in social situations again, with all the expectations that surround them? Once you’re aware of the reason, you can make a plan to address your concern. For instance, if it’s social situations that are bothering you, perhaps start by seeing just one or two people then build up from there.
If you’re nervous, identify which specific situations might be a trigger. You can then visualise these in your head. Think through the scenario, imagine how you might feel and why, and decide how best to deal with the situation. What would you like to happen?
Decide what you’re happy to do – and what you’re not ready for. Set some boundaries in your mind in advance. You may long to stand at the bar in a crowded pub again, be happy to go if you can sit at an outside table, or not be ready to go at all. While we’re ‘allowed’ to hug, you might not want to until you and the other person have had both jabs. Perhaps you’ll start visiting your grandparents again, but opt to keep a two-metre distance. Once you’ve decided where the line is you may need to communicate this clearly to others, and be assertive if necessary.
Appreciate that not everybody will be in the same place as you. You might be desperate to give a loved one a hug, for instance, but they may not be ready yet even if they’re fully vaccinated. Maybe a friend keeps turning down invitations to meet in groups. Be patient – we all need to take this at our own pace.
Talk about how you’re feeling. What you’re afraid of, what you’re still missing, how different situations make you feel…Sharing experiences may help you, and others too.
At this tricky stage in the pandemic, it’s completely up to you how much you do within the guidelines, based on what you’re comfortable with. And it’s natural that protecting ourselves and our family, friends and colleagues will remain a priority. However, if you’re feeling particularly anxious or ‘stuck’, and you’d really like to feel more confident or to do more than you’re currently doing, then CBT might help. Find out more about how CBT is used to treat anxiety.