How to make a mental health plan to help you process the pandemic

With U.S. vaccine eligibility open to people age 16 and older, many are looking forward to a post-pandemic life without masks and social distancing — visiting friends, hugging loved ones, in-person school, and so much more.

Planning for exciting changes injects much-needed hope into our daily lives. It’s tempting to solely focus on the positives, but true recovery after this trying year requires us to both re-envision the future and process the past. As we reemerge, it may be helpful to consider how our experiences over the last year could stick with us and recognize when we or our loved ones may need support.

The mental health impact of the last year — increased depression and anxiety, sleep problems, intimate partner conflicts and violence, and alcohol and substance use — will not disappear overnight.

The full impact of a major stressor typically isn’t felt until weeks or months after the initial event. The particular stressors that came along with the pandemic more closely mimic a military deployment than a onetime trauma such as a natural disaster. The prolonged stress, uncertainty, separation from loved ones, and, in many cases, trauma, kicked many of us into “survival mode.” We will need time to transition out of this high gear and to process our experiences.

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