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Return to 'normal' amid pandemic will cause anxiety for some, UW expert says

Washington state is on track to fully reopen by June 30 and psychologists said some people are just not ready for that.

SEATTLE — Washington state is on track to fully reopen by June 30, and psychologists said some people are just not ready for that.

"Going back to normal is going to look different for different people," said Jane Simoni, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington.

According to Simoni, human beings are creatures of habit, which means we will have to start unlearning the social norms we learned so well during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, social distancing, wearing a mask and staying away from large crowds.

"All sorts of emotions and reactions are acceptable right now, and we have to be compassionate and patient both with others and with ourselves," Simoni said. "It's okay to feel that way. It's been a long long time."

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Simoni pointed out that the year was harder on some people than others. A number of people lost family members or friends to COVID-19 complications or were hospitalized due to the virus.

For some, returning to society will feel scary. Psychologists are calling this "re-entry anxiety."

"This has been a community trauma," Simoni said.

However, Simoni does believe most of the population will welcome a return to normalcy.

"Now normal is going to look normal," she said." It's going to look like it was in the past. We are going to be able to see each other, see our smiles, see our expressions, and I think that's going to help a lot."  

However, she said those feeling the anxiety should return to normal activities in small steps.

"Maybe the first event you do is not the vaccinated section at the Sounders game. Maybe it's going out to an indoor dining (experience)," she said. "Once we've developed this habit, we will be able to do it easily and comfortably again."