• This year, “Hot Girl Summer” has a different meaning — in a post-pandemic world, it’s about self-assurance and self-compassion as we face what we’ve been through and acknowledge the mental challenges ahead.
  • There are (at least) five mental obstacles that we have to navigate during our reemergence, one being anxiety: If you’re feeling anxious post-covid, know that you aren’t alone and re-enter the world at your own pace.
  • Another current obstacle is body insecurity — if you gained unwanted weight during the pandemic like the majority of American adults, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, set small goals for what you’d like to achieve, or just make your pants fit you.
  • Social avoidance is also common in our society post-covid. For those who feel nervous to reach out to others after a long period of silence, practice forgiveness (of yourself and others) and propose a friendship “reset”.
  • Increased alcohol use is another casualty of the pandemic. If you need help cutting back, consider hanging out with other people who are also working to change their drinking habits.
  • Finally, our grief is universal. We all lost something major and many of us are still grieving our loss(es). It’s okay to spend extra time with your loved ones and open up about how you’re feeling in order to process and heal.

When Megan Thee Stallion released her feminist rap anthem “Hot Girl Summer” in summer 2019, she couldn’t have anticipated what it would mean for us in summer 2021. We’ve all suffered a year plus of trauma and isolation. This time around the sun, your seasonal makeover will have to go deeper than a cute new wardrobe and a bold attitude.

Hot Girl Summer (HGS) 2021 is about self-assurance and self-compassion. It’s about re-engaging positively with your community, maybe with a shot of liquid courage in your arm (thanks, Pfizer!). It’s about confidence—something that was in short supply when we were all scrambling to stay safe from Covid-19. 

But it won’t just happen overnight. HGS isn’t something you can simply will into being because you want—and need—it so badly. You don’t get vaccinated one day, then wake up in a music video the next. First you have to face what you’ve been through and acknowledge the mental challenges ahead. It’s okay to slow-walk your way back into a post-pandemic world. And fortunately, we’ve made a checklist to help.

The HGS Mental Health Checklist: Conquer 5 Mental Roadblocks to Self-Renewal This Summer 

You finally feel secure enough to throw open your door and re-enter society. Your lust for life might have lain dormant for most of 2020, but now you feel it reawakening. You fantasize about packed bars and epic pool parties… and sometimes even quiet park benches. But something is still holding you back from post-covid self-renewal. 

Here’s a checklist of actions you can take to thwart potential mental obstacles as you navigate your reopening.

1. Anxiety

Last June, a CDC survey revealed that symptoms of anxiety were three times more prevalent than they were before the pandemic. We all felt scared and vulnerable as millions of people around the world were infected with Covid-19. It is normal to be fearful when you and your loved ones are threatened. We were hypervigilant about washing our hands and wearing our masks, and thank goodness we were, because those behaviors helped keep us safe. 

But that anxiety about getting sick doesn’t just miraculously disappear because your favorite restaurants are open again. People still feel uncertain about what’s safe and what’s not. According to Stephanie Carlyle, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor at Thriveworks in Silver Spring, MD, “What is most important here is for individuals to know that they are not alone in these anxious feelings.”

Still feeling anxious post-covid? Try this:

  • Take it slow. You don’t have to dive back into “normalcy” all at once, post-covid. Flirt with the edges of your comfort zone for a while. 
  • Don’t make your life harder by indulging in FOMO. Go at your own pace.
  • Hang out with like-minded individuals who understand your lingering attachment to hand sanitizer and PPE.
  • Set boundaries upfront so your friends and family know what to expect.

2. Body insecurity 

You’re ready to put on Real Pants, but none of them fit. A staggering 61% of American adults reported unwanted weight changes during the pandemic. Which makes total sense. Lockdown is sedentary. During the pandemic, 53% of people report being “less active” than they wished. And we turn to comfort foods in times of stress. Sometimes there was literally nowhere else to turn but the fridge when our usual stress-relievers like hitting the gym, or dinner out with friends, became off-limits. 

Feeling insecure about your body? Try this:

  • Cultivate a sense of gratitude. For your health. For the life-saving vaccines. For this opportunity for renewal.
  • Treat yourself to bigger pants! It’s your pants’ job to fit YOU. Recognize that your body has changed, probably due to stress, and that’s okay. Have compassion for what your body went through this year. Why not just continue to rock the stretchy pants through the summer? Remember, the people who have missed you so dearly will be looking at your smiling face, not your midsection. 
  • Don’t compare yourself to others
  • Take a digital break. We’ve used social media as a lifeline to help us in isolation, but too much can hurt your self-esteem
  • Forgive yourself for not meeting all your quarantine goals. It’s okay for the goal to be simply survival. Don’t criticize yourself for how you kept your head above water. The pandemic changed basically everything. 
  • Carlyle recommends that instead of beating yourself up, set “goals for what you would like to achieve over the next few months. Make them realistic and achievable. Give yourself a pat on the back for even the smallest victories. Positive self-talk goes a long way. When you find your inner voice spewing negativity, ask yourself: ‘Would I say this to my best friend? Would my best friend say this to me?’”

3. Social avoidance

We’ve been lonely and isolated during the pandemic. We haven’t had in-person access to many friends, family members, coworkers—all our usual means of emotional support. And continuing to live in isolation can take a toll on your mental health. 

Maybe you feel that you’ve neglected your friends, or that you’ve been neglected by your friends. You might be afraid to reach out to people you haven’t seen or even spoken to in over a year. Or you may feel like your social skills are rusty, or that you’ll be judged in person. This is all (new) normal emotional terrain.

Are you avoiding your friends? Try this:

  • Propose a friendship “reset” or amnesty. Agree to pick up where you left off, even if you haven’t spoken to each other for 15 months.
  • Practice forgiveness, of yourself and others. This year has been incredibly difficult. It’s normal to withdraw when you’re feeling stressed, and chances are your friends felt the same tendency.
  • Don’t label yourself. Maybe you’ve become more comfortable being alone during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you’re a Loner now. It’s normal to discover new dimensions of yourself during such a long period of introspection.
  • Carlyle encourages her clients to take this opportunity to reach out to old friends. “Even if your old friendships are not as close as they once were,” she says, “it’s still nice to hear from people who were once very important in our lives.”

4. Addiction and substance abuse

During the pandemic, 23% of adults reported drinking more to manage their stress levels. Yikes. But again, totally normal behavior in times of stress and uncertainty. And it’s never too late to get your drinking habits under control. “There’s no need to wait to hit rock bottom,” says Carlyle. “Earlier intervention leads to better outcomes, quicker.”

Need help cutting back? Try this:

  • When you venture out, choose booze-free activities, like sports or hiking, over the bar scene.
  • Seek out people who are also cutting back or recovering.
  • Consider attending a 12-step meeting, just to see what it’s like.
  • Commit to a 30-day break from alcohol to reset your mind and body. You might discover (or remember) some alternative coping skills.

5. Grief

Most of us are contending with collective trauma from the pandemic in one form or another. The psychological impact of Covid-19 is wide-ranging and will endure for years. You may have missed a loved one’s funeral. You may have postponed your feelings of grief and mourning until you felt safe from the virus. You may feel a painful sense of loss even if you didn’t lose anyone personally. We all lost something major, even if it was just our feeling of safety. 

Need support for your grief? Try this:

  • Acknowledge your sadness. It can exist side by side with your hope for the future. Grief is normal and healthy, and it’s the only bridge to truly moving forward.
  • Shed the survivor’s guilt. If you got sick and recovered, or if someone close to you died of Covid-19, you may be more vulnerable to feelings of guilt because your own life was spared. Try spending time in nature, where awareness of the cycles of life can be healing. But survivor’s guilt can be complex and heavy, and you may benefit from talking to a therapist instead of trying to cope on your own.
  • Hug your people again. Hold hands. Touch can be healing.
  • Talk about your feelings with a friend. It’s even okay to do this on the beach. In a bathing suit. While enjoying the sunset. You can just say you’re crying because it’s so beautiful.

Hello HGS!

Adjusting to post-covid life won’t be all pool parties and picnics, but this summer we can try to export into the sunshine the lessons we’ve learned in lockdown. Remember to take it easy on yourself and embrace your own version of Hot Girl Summer.