As more people become vaccinated against COVID-19, the CDC has released guidelines allowing for fully vaccinated people to gather together without masks. But pulling off the mask and returning to what was normal before the pandemic will come with a learning curve, according to experts.
Dr. Aderonke Pederson, an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said the one-year anniversary of the pandemic was a landmark for people who have adjusted to a new normal.
"If we were talking one week or two weeks of a change in routine, then reverting back to a semblance of normalcy would be a different point. But we're talking about a year of change and adjusting, a year of loss on many levels," she said.
Hesitation among those who are fully vaccinated stems from learned behaviors as well as trauma associated with the virus.
"A year in, we've been conditioned to say the safe thing to do is to put your mask on and not be close to other people, and now we're having to readjust and adapt to what will end up being a new normal in the coming months," she said. "There's a level of conditioning that happens when we are changing our behavior, when you continue to engage in that particular behavior for a specific time, your body adjusts to that behavior."
"It's important for us to pace through the next few months and be patient with each other," she said.
Jacqueline Gollan, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that "baby steps" to normalcy will help in overcoming anxiety.
"Anxiety decreases when you rely on medical science," she said. "We are able to make predictions more accurately. It's like slowly stepping on ice to make sure it is thick enough to hold us. Each of us have our own timelines to normal. Some people will take big steps, others will need to look and see where they can make changes that are safe enough and mitigate their own risk."