October 24, 2021

COVID policies ease, but anxiety remains

Metro Creative Graphics

Laura Tate of Cortland is fully vaccinated, but feels anxious about going out in public: As more people are vaccinated, fewer people seem to be wearing masks.

Going to the grocery store for the first time in several months Wednesday morning, Tate said she noted several shoppers were wearing their masks improperly, and sometimes not at all.

“I felt on one hand, very safe because I am vaccinated, but disturbed to see several people not wearing masks appropriately,” Tate said. “In terms of public health and hearing what’s going on in the community and the world, this isn’t over – it’s better, but it’s not over.”

But the anxiety is different than what Tate first experienced when the pandemic started, she said. With one daughter in public health and the other working as a nurse, the concerns stemmed from her family’s safety and in turn, her own.

“In March or April of last year, I saw an ambulance in the neighborhood, and I thought, ‘Is this what’s going to happen?’” Tate said. “Are we going to see people taken off in ambulances once a week or every few days?”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests vaccinated people continue to wear their masks indoors or when congregating with unvaccinated people. But when congregating in groups of vaccinated people, masks are not necessary and neither is quarantining when exposed.

However, unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks when indoors, in outdoor settings with a high volume of people or when congregating with vaccinated or unvaccinated people, according to the CDC.

When it comes to back to work anxieties, Karen Dudgeon, a licensed therapist in Cortland, recommends employees ask their employers if they can slowly re-enter instead of going back full-time by requesting flexible schedules and half days, Dudgeon said.

“People need to start with baby steps and do things that are relatively safe,” Dudgeon said. “Carefully get back into the water instead of diving in the deep end.”

But when Amanda Stout, program director at Child and Family Counseling Services of Cortland, asked her team of therapists if they’d seen heightened anxieties in their patients, there wasn’t much feedback, she said.

Coping with COVID anxiety

  • Don’t criticize yourself. Accept your experience and how you feel in that moment.
  • Be kind to yourself the way you would be kind to a loved one.
  • Accept and acknowledge your feelings, challenge emotions.
  • Practice controlled breathing.
  • Reward yourself when you expose yourself to things you fear to shift your thinking away from the negative stimuli.

<em>— SOURCE: Colin Albro, mental health clinician, Child and Family Counseling Services</em>

“People have noticed that the majority of their clients are expressing relief to having more options now, especially those individuals who have been vaccinated,” Stout said. “Many of our clients have been working in a public setting throughout the pandemic and are also expressing relief that others are returning.”

Child and Family Counseling Services of Cortland has been surveying clients per the New York state Office of Mental Health and found a large number of clients who are declining to get vaccinated, Stout said.

“This leads me to believe that many individuals in our rural community are not as anxious about restrictions being lifted,” Stout said.

Enforcing mask-wearing in public spaces like restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses would make Tate more comfortable, she said. But for now, she will continue to avoid them.

“Seeing that people may have walked in with a mask and they’re not keeping it on made me think there are quite a few people who aren’t taking this seriously,” Tate said. “There’s no way to know if they’re vaccinated or not.”