Operation Brightside: Handling Pandemic-Related Anxiety

Trigger Warning: this article discusses anxiety, especially in relation to travel and the COVID-19 pandemic 

As summer break approaches, I’ve found myself combating a mix of excitement for a break from school and anxiety about traveling home during a pandemic. The anxious voice in my head stresses out about whether or not the pandemic will worsen again despite the presence of vaccines. If anything, it feels like vaccinations will make people more careless, opening the world up to a whole host of virus-related issues. 

College students with masks walking across campus together. Photo by Charlotte May from Pexels

Being from Texas, this anxiety is extremely heightened. How will I react to going from a very COVID-conscious Massachusetts to a state that isn’t as careful … to say the least? A mere month ago, I saw dozens of Snapchats of people partying maskless on beaches for spring break, going out to bars, and taking shots with strangers. It feels like no one, aside from my family, cares about the pandemic at home. How do I say “no” to the people from high school who want to recklessly hangout without seeming rude? 

While I always feel anxious about social pressures when going home, the pandemic has brought both more stress and some relief. While I’m scared of seeing a lot of people from my home state, as many of them are probably super-spreaders, I’m also grateful I have the perfect excuse in the book: telling them that, to be frank, I’m actually conscious about the health of myself and others, and I will not be going to a massive party without a mask (or at all).

As a person who has struggled with social anxiety for what feels like her whole life, the idea that standing up for one’s beliefs is a good excuse was hard for me to digest. The pandemic has made it easier for me to learn this lesson, as it has resulted in me more sharply defining the boundaries of my friendships. 

Through combating my pandemic-related anxiety, I’ve learned that it’s okay to be honest with people, and it’s also okay to get a bit snippy with them if they don’t take “no” for an answer. If people try to make you feel less than for wanting to be safe in a global health emergency, that’s on them. 

People sitting on a plane from behind Photo by Gerrie van der Walt from Unsplash

Social anxiety aside, a lot of people have been experiencing stress about traveling in the midst of the pandemic. This is something I’ve experienced myself, as it requires two plane flights, one of which is four hours long, and a layover in a crowded airport for me to get home. 

That’s why I’ve taken to preparing in advance for my travels. My biggest tip is to pack a “COVID travel kit” in your carry-on bag, which includes an extra mask, gloves if you feel like you need them, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes. For peace of mind, it’s also helpful to know that most airlines provide a sanitizing wipe to passengers as they board the plane so that you can wipe down your area upon reaching your seat. 

It’s normal to feel anxiety about bringing the virus home to your loved ones, but through BU, there are measures one can take to prevent that. I like to get tested the day before I fly so that I know my result right before I leave. This gives me a bit of comfort about not having the virus before I begin my travels home while also helping me to feel less anxious about the between-state travel forms. 

I wish I had more answers about how to deal with pandemic-related anxiety, but for now, the best thing to do is to try to remain positive and hope for the best. Getting tested regularly, wearing a mask, and standing your ground when it comes to pandemic rules are all great ways to reassure the mind that everything will be okay. 

The last year hasn’t been easy for anyone, but if we all remain careful and diligent (and get vaccinated!) over the summer, things will continue to look up. Take deep breaths, sanitize your hands, and have a great summer! 

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