One year later

Use these handy coping mechanisms to help you return to normal life

Just know that “it’s possible that life will never fully return to normal.”

A ladder leading to a circular opening showing the blue sky

During the pandemic, Janet Rae-Dupree bought an e-bike.

“It has saved my sanity,” she tells Inverse.

She’s loved cycling her whole life, and after some experimentation with an old mountain bike, she invested in an e-bike.

Now, she masks up and glides along the bluffs near her home in Half Moon Bay, California. Rae-Dupree especially loves a sunset ride. When she faces an incline, she bumps the pedal assist to “turbo.”

“Getting outdoors, enjoying plenty of exercise, and feeling like a kid on my new toy all lift my spirits any time the pandemic starts to wear them down,” she says.

Using the e-bike is what Rae-Dupree describes as her pandemic coping mechanism.

She’s one of a group of 30 Inverse readers who told us about their coping mechanisms in the face of phenomenal stress the Covid-19 pandemic created. They might just help you face what’s ahead.

The healthy coping strategies people use are as idiosyncratic as they are familiar. While what steers us to choose differs — guided by bias, randomness, and preference — it’s easy to empathize with why someone would, for example, embrace puzzling or birding. Those activities sound nice. You might just be more of a cook.

Dr. Melanie Badali, a registered psychologist, tells Inverse this pandemic will likely have significant psychological effects long after something like herd immunity is achieved.

“Although we can’t be certain of the repercussions because we are still ‘in it,’ experts and preliminary research suggest that there will be mental health repercussions,” Badali says, adding:

“We need to act now to prevent an ‘echo pandemic’ of mental health problems and help people who have been negatively affected.”

Rae-Dupree’s e-bike and view.

Janet Rae-Dupree

This “echo pandemic,” also referred to as the “second pandemic,” will affect us even after vaccines roll out, Dr. Vaile Wright tells Inverse.

Wright, the senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association, points to the new APA Stress in America Survey, released one year after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic.

The report echoes concurrent messaging from other organizations tracking mental health, and the truth is clear. More Americans are reporting high levels of:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal ideation

There are four groups in particular that have demonstrated additional vulnerability, Wright says:

  1. Younger adults
  2. Parents with children under the age of 18
  3. Individuals from communities of color
  4. Essential workers

Flickering through all of this, like froth on a wave, is an intuitive response hard-wired in human beings: resilience.

Resilience is an innate capacity to navigate challenges. Being resilient doesn’t mean problems will disappear, but it can mean that you’ve found a way to make a sticky situation more manageable.

When an international team of researchers tracked Google trends from January to June 2020, they found, at the start, most searches had to do with Covid-19 and practicalities like furloughs.

Over time, the Google queries with the most growth were no longer related to Covid-19 as the initial panic faded. Topics associated with coping and resilience, like exercise and learning new skills, remained constant though.

“The pandemic has taught me to look inward; re-tool some of my life skills,” Inverse reader Alan Hetherington says. “I truly believe our next step as human beings is to become more present while dealing with what is in the moment.”

Finding a healthy coping mechanism — Wright, the APA psychologist, emphasizes the need for a balance between healthy and not-so-healthy coping mechanisms. (A glass of wine at the end of a long day is fine.)

Badali agrees: “Coping strategies are not one size fits all.”

Sometimes a strategy that is helpful in one situation can be harmful in another. Badali encourages her patients to develop a “coping toolbox” — a repertoire of skills that match the moment.

“Walking 3 to 5 miles while listening to music and breathing fresh air, especially delicious in a light rain.” — Inverse reader Mark Wilson

For example, after Covid-19 hit, Inverse reader Todd Stewart decided to become healthier, starting a rigorous exercise regimen and intermittent fasting. “It helped with anxiety by simple attrition,” Stewart says. “By making me physically tired, more chill, and by cutting 40 pounds, which puts me in better shape than I have been since college.”

While it may seem obvious that there are different types of coping mechanisms — some lean into exercise, while others may read more — coping is divided categorically as well.

There’s problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping.

Problem-focused means engaging with the outside world. To cope, “people can learn steps for solving problems and then routinely go through them when problems arise,” Badali says.

Emotion-focused coping is directed inward. There are a handful of strategies we can develop into healthy habits that regulate our emotions, Badali explains. These include good nutrition, regular exercise, healthy thinking, and meaningful actions.

“If the weather allows, I go for walks with our little dog Cognac.” — Inverse reader Angela Bird

New coping strategies can, in turn, improve our resilience, she says.

“I think it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not just about making things a habit, but using the best tool for the task at hand,” Badali says.

And the task at hand will be different for various people. Take Arthur Bieker, another reader we interviewed. He plays fiddle and mandolin and has taken to playing his instruments on the front porch or back patio, weather permitting.

“People are so hungry for community, they listen,” Bieker tells Inverse.

“I don’t play all that well, but it seems a treat for them as well as an outlet for me, since the social jams that I usually attend are locked down,” Bieker says. “The wife takes the dog on walks around the neighborhood, and if the neighbors don’t know who we are, they at least know ‘that’s the house where the fiddler lives.’”

“If the neighbors don’t know who we are, they at least know ‘that’s the house where the fiddler lives.’”

To get out of the house, Laura Connealy explores historical places of interest, cemeteries, and generally “lovely places.” She’s found herself at sites in and around Portland, Oregon: River View Cemetery, Peninsula Park; Mount Angel seminary.

“My partner and I have enjoyed these outings with very few problems with social distancing, while being amazed by how relevant the past is to the present,” Connealy tells Inverse.

Meanwhile, Virginia Carpio explores a different way — she looks at maps online. She selects a place somewhere in the world and absorbs information about temples, fortresses, seaports, and mountain passes. She looks at historical maps, at countries she never knew once existed. Sometimes she looks at maps of the universe.

“I have traveled a lot and hope to resume visiting interesting locations all over the planet next year, so maps are naturally interesting to me anyway,” Carpio tells Inverse. “They absorb my attention and before I know it, an hour or even an afternoon has passed by.”

“We’ve adjusted to this way, and now we have to readjust.”

The next chapter — What remains to be seen is what we’ll do with the skills we’ve learned in the pandemic. Wright points out that, in the APA’s Stress in America survey, almost 50 percent of adults said they’re uncomfortable or concerned about returning to pre-pandemic life.

“I think that’s in part because change is hard, right?” Wright says. “We’ve adjusted to this way, and now we have to readjust. It takes a lot of effort.”

“There’s also still a lot of uncertainty, and you’re still left with asking yourself what is safe? I think it’s absolutely normal to feel some trepidation and some anxiety about what things will look like going forward.”

“It’s possible that life will never fully return to ‘normal,’” Badali says. Some risk-averse people, for example, may continue to withdraw from the outside world.

The key to making the transition to whatever comes next, Wright says, is not judging yourself too harshly. There’s space to grieve, and there’s space to have some gratitude for the good you’ve encountered in the past 12 months.

There’s space for loss, and there’s space to reflect on what’s been gained.

“Feeling like a cog in the wheel of a tectonic shift,” as Inverse reader Alan Hetherington puts it, can give you solace. It can also just be nice to make some mail art, which Megan Miller tells Inverse she’s “ramped up significantly” in pandemic times.

“It’s calming to make art and send it off into the world,” Miller says, “and it has made the postal carrier someone to look forward to again.”

Something to look forward to is sometimes all that’s necessary. The first step is engaging with an action that makes your life healthier. The future will take it from there.

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