It is winter 2021, and the prospect of a post-pandemic world is in sight. Owing to the mass roll out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK, a total of 8,977,329 individuals have currently received an inoculation (BBC News) that is at least 70% effective in protecting people from COVID-19 (GOV.UK). For many, the vaccine is a symbol of hope that “brings us one step closer to normal” (BBC News). However, for others it is a sign of apprehension which drives the fear of reintegrating back into society to the forefront of their minds. I am one of those individuals. As both a student and a sufferer of social anxiety, the transition to online learning in spring 2020 was the silver lining in an otherwise uncertain and frightening situation. With this in mind, the anticipation of in-person teaching resuming in the not-too-distant future makes my feelings towards a post-pandemic world bittersweet. Whilst I am uneasy about my return to society, I am nonetheless grateful that activities once taken for granted, such as dining out with family, will recommence. Therefore, although it is recognised that “[it is] normal to be nervous or even feel guilty about reconnecting” (Psychology Today), I nevertheless experience remorse that I am hesitant to progress into a post-pandemic world due to my anxieties. This is because, for others who have lost their jobs or loved ones to COVID-19, the prospect of a post-pandemic world could potentially offer a chance for them to rebuild their shattered lives.
Exhibit 1. A Person Wearing a Face Mask
Like the COVID-19 vaccine, face masks will play an invaluable role in allowing humanity to progress into a post-pandemic world. However, comparably to the COVID-19 inoculation, face masks present difficulties for those who struggle with their mental health. For example, in between the UK’s first and second lockdown I went out, but within minutes I was forced to retreat and return home due to the immense feeling of claustrophobia and anxiety I felt whilst wearing a face mask. The possibility that face masks will be with us even once we have moved into a post-pandemic world, in order to prevent the virus from resurfacing, makes me feel nervous about our progression into this society. The thought of struggling with claustrophobia and anxiety whilst I am out with the intention of enjoying myself is disheartening. Nevertheless, the reason for wearing a face mask in a post-pandemic world will be paramount, ensuring the world is not plagued by COVID-19 once more.
Exhibit 2. A University of Kent UNI Bus
For many, before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc upon students’ lives, using public transport was just another aspect of our everyday life. Yet, during the strict lockdowns of spring 2020 and winter 2021 in the UK, non-essential travel was not permitted. This included travelling for educational purposes, unless you were travelling in order to study specific subjects, such as medicine or social work. As I am not studying any of these subjects, I no longer required the services of public transport. However, in a post-pandemic world students’ demand for public transport, such as the University of Kent UNI Bus, will drastically increase, as the ban on non-essential travel will be lifted. This will present new challenges for individuals with anxiety. Having not used public transport for a prolonged period of time, the concept of having to suddenly go back to the close contact environment with other passengers on buses and trains will be frightening.
Exhibit 3. A COVID-Secure Restaurant
Eating out with friends and family is an enjoyable experience. However, during the pandemic eating out was not an option as restaurants were forced to close in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. Many restaurants offered takeaways as an alternative to eating in the restaurant, but it is not the same. Eating out is not just about the food, it is about socialising with the ones you love, something individuals could do very little of during the pandemic. Therefore, the prospect of restaurants reopening and being able to eat out with family members that I have been unable to see for a year due to the COVID-19 restrictions is very exciting. However, it is likely that when restaurants do reopen people’s experience of eating out will be altered, due to reduced numbers being allowed in the restaurant at any one time and plastic screens being placed around tables to help prevent further spread of the virus.
Exhibit 4. An 80th Birthday Party
There are many things I am looking forward to, and feeling anxious about, in the post-pandemic world. Celebrating my grandmother’s 80th birthday is one of the things I am most excited about. As was the case with most people around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face birthday celebrations for the ones we love had to be put on hold due to government restrictions, which was emotionally difficult and really heart-breaking in the case of every birthday we wanted to celebrate, young or old. Some families were in the position to use technology in order to celebrate virtually, but not everybody, especially the elderly, were in a position to celebrate in this way. However, it now means that the prospect of celebrating the lives of our loved ones in person in a post-pandemic world gives us something to look forward to, and perhaps we will not take our loved ones as for granted in the future.
Exhibit 5. A Beach
Just being able to travel to the beach for a walk was something so many of us took for granted before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when the government imposed strict restrictions on travel so that we were only permitted to go out for essential reasons, such as to obtain food or medical supplies, journeying to the beach was out of the question. Therefore, in the post-pandemic world I will be overjoyed to finally be able to visit the beach with my family and my dog. The thought of experiencing the simple childish delights of playing with the sand and searching for shells is very comforting during this stressful time. The smell of the sea will ignite memories of a care-free time pre-pandemic; however, it will also remind me of the challenges with anxiety I have experienced over the past year, and are likely to experience in the post-pandemic world.
Visitor Activity – Words of Hope: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. To help support and encourage others, leave some words of hope for the future.
BBC News. ‘Covid-19: Record day for UK vaccinations as total nears 9m’. BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-55881092 (accessed 01 February 2021).
GOV.UK. ‘Government asks regulator to approve supply of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine’. GOV. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-asks-regulator-to-approve-supply-of-oxfordastrazeneca-vaccine (accessed 01 February 2021).
Psychology Today. ‘Reconnecting After COVID-19’. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-matters-menninger/202010/reconnecting-after-covid-19 (accessed 02 February 2021).