Are You Vaccinated, But Still Nervous?

A close up of a face mask being held in the hand of a woman outside
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Driving home after getting my second COVID-19 vaccine shot, I feel something I haven’t felt in more than a year: hope. I’m actually hopeful that I’ll get to visit my dad, hug my grandson, meet friends for dinner.

And yet, even though I’m vaccinated, I still have queasy feelings about interacting in person outside my little bubble.

Lucy McBride, an internist and mental health advocate in Washington, D.C., calls it “emotional whiplash” — this quick switch from becoming accustomed to pandemic life to readjusting to something closer to our previous life. “We have been yearning to be done with enforced distancing [and] social isolation. Now that the moment has arrived, the prospect is oddly disconcerting,” she wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

Nearly half of Americans, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not, feel the same way, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 “Stress in America” report.

About half of Americans surveyed said they feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends. And being vaccinated didn’t make them feel much safer. Adults who received a COVID-19 vaccine were just as likely as those who had not to say they feel uneasy — 48 percent vs. 49 percent.

Even before vaccinations had started in earnest, a Pew Research Center survey in September 2020 found that 50 percent of adults ages 50 to 64 and 47 percent of those age 65-plus believed their lives will remain changed in major ways after the pandemic is over.

That’s to be expected, says Jacqueline Gollan, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. During the height of the pandemic, “we viewed social activities as an unsafe experience. It’s hard to let that go.”

If you’re feeling hesitant as you transition to post-vaccination life, one way to approach it is in baby steps, says Gollan, a clinical psychologist.

Take your time to see what you are comfortable with, she suggests. You may need more time to relearn that social experiences are safe. Take small steps, such as limiting time with others and staying outdoors, to increase your confidence and decrease anxiety. If you feel your anxiety remains at a distressing level, consult with your doctor or a mental health clinician. Anxiety is treatable condition, she adds.

To read more tips on ways to readjust to normal life, see this article on Staying Sharp.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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