Marketing manager Jam dreads returning to the office because his exhausting commute will also be filled with fear catching COVID-19 on the train, reflecting the anxieties of millions in Metro Manila who also slowly emerging from one of the world's longest lockdowns.
On-site work and leisure trips are returning after the capital region of 12 million people shifted to the second-lowest quarantine for the first time, as at least two large-scale lockdowns this year tamed deadly, variant-driven surges.
Jam, 26, said he needed assurance from his boss that his needs would be provided in case he gets sick.
"Every employer should look after the welfare of their employees. 'Di naman kasi puwede irason na ginagawa n'yo na naman ito dati e. Nagkaron tayo two years na pandemic, we don't know how everyone will adapt once we reintroduce going back to the office," he told reportr.
On-site work will also mean letting go of a work-from-home routine that is good for the health, Jam said. That's sleeping until 10 minutes before his shift and cooking healthy meals.
"Sa MRT kahit na mabilis 'yung biyahe, 'yung effort ng pagpila pa lang, nakaka-drain siya. Kailagan mo na naman balikan 'yung ganung routine... 'Yung energy na nako-consume n'ya sa'yo, mas nakakapagod," he said.
Pre-pandemic life is slowly returning as Christmas approaches. Traffic jams are back and curfew restrictions were lifted after 20 months. Cinemas, arcades and schools were allowed to reopen. Children are now allowed outdoors and some large cities scrapped face shield mandates.
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That's post-pandemic anxiety talking
Anxiety is normal and it is the body's response when things are unpredictable, psychiatrist and life coach Dr. Randy Dellosa said.
It's the kind of anxiety that many people experienced when the pandemic struck early 2020 when little was known about the coronavirus. Now, the source of the anxiety is the uncertainty of the new normal.
"We've gotten used to our pandemic lifestyle even if it has been challenging or plain difficult for many people. Somehow our habits and attitudes have revolved around those challenges or difficulties," he told reportr.
"It's like being comfortable in the set routines of the discomfort. And so now that we have to change routines again, then we're being pushed again out of comfort zone despite the discomfort that we've been feeling there," he said.
Jam is dreading long hours in the office where overtime is normal. At least when working from home, he can relax right after shutting down his computer.
"We also have to understand that the pandemic introduced some of us to an easier work life and to think that we go back to the usual stresses of being face-to-face with stressful people. There would also be less tolerance for depression, anxiety, or even mistakes kasi wala nang reason e," Dellosa explained.
Jam said he is afraid of catching COVID-19 whenever he leaves the house. According to psychiatrist Elspeth Ritchie, it's called rational pandemic-related fear, or "fact-based concerns" about returning to the new normal. It's expected and reasonable, she said.
Anxiety becomes irrational when it's based on false information, like fear that vaccines can be used to implant microchips in the body, Ritchie said.
Our bodies have a way of alerting us to danger. This response helps people to be conscious of wearing face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) said.
That alarm has been on since the start of the pandemic, which means the nonstop release of stress hormones and adrenaline, Dellosa said.
Just as the body learned how to be afraid, it can also unlearn it, the ADAA said.
How to deal with post-pandemic anxiety
Experts said there are ways on how to deal with anxiety as the world adjusts to the new normal.
Take care of your body
Since anxiety can manifest physically, those experiencing it should take care of their health.
"We need to eat right, we have to sleep well, we need to get enough exercise to release the excess adrenaline," Dellosa said.
Look for support
"Emotionally, we're built to express ourselves, we're built to have an outlet for negative emotions and that's where social support comes in," he said.
When support is lacking, you may opt to seek professional help.
Set healthy boundaries
Socializing is good but set boundaries to help ease you into the new normal. If it means meeting with friends and requesting to meet outside where it's well-ventilated or leaving early to limit exposure, do it, said Ritchie.
For Jam, the thought of chatting with friends over coffee again is an inviting prospect, something that cannot be replicated over Zoom.
"If ever's there's a consolation to it that will help everyone, that's reconnecting with people."
Take your time
Everyone's timelines will be a little different when it comes to adjusting to the post-pandemic life.
"He can assure himself that he's already easing into something, into a previous lifestyle which is easier than easing into an unknown which is the pandemic," Dellosa said. "Things are going to pass. This discomfort and adjusting is going to pass."