ReEntry Anxiety: Ideas for Reducing the Stress of Entering into a Post-pandemic Reality.
It is safe to say that many of us have mixed feelings about our current phase in
the pandemic. Anxiety is one of a variety of feelings arising as people begin to get back to small reminders of normalcy with the rise of people being vaccinated. The article below from Self.com gives some ideas about how to approach our current state.
Reentry Anxiety: 7 Ways to Deal With Stress About Post-Pandemic Life Healthy tips to help you cope with anxiety and grief as things change—again. With all U.S. adults now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine passports on the horizon, we’re closer to “normalcy” than we've been in a year. But if you’re
feeling reentry anxiety about a post-COVID-19 world rather than excitement, you’re not alone. This type of “reentry anxiety” is essentially the stress that people feel as it pertains to getting life back to normal, Inger Burnett-Zeigler, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, tells SELF. This might include the stress that comes with going back to work at your office instead of from the comfort of home, waking up earlier for a long morning commute, or the anxiety of feeling obligated to attend social events and family gatherings again. The thought of engaging in these activities may be especially anxiety-provoking with the huge weight of pandemic-related grief on our collective shoulders.
People who already deal with a diagnosed anxiety disorder may experience this type of added stress as well as those without those disorders. So here are a few expert-backed tips to keep in mind to help you cope as our world changes—again.
1. Focus on what’s in your control. Often when people feel anxious it’s because they’re feeling a high level of uncertainty about the things that are out of their control, Dr. Burnett-Zeigler says. So it’s important to remind yourself of what you actually can control about a particularly stressful situation. If you’re planning to meet up with friends for the first time in a while, start by writing a list of the relevant factors that you have control over, such as getting your vaccine (or trying to as soon as possible, depending on your local rollout), social distancing, holding the gathering outside, and wearing masks. This will help you recognize what areas of your life you can focus on.
Another way to deal with that uncertainty is to think back to uncertain times in your past (like, say, when you first started lockdown). It’ll remind you you’ve been resilient before—and that you can rely on the same resilience now.
2. Make a bucket list of the things you’re excited to do again. Creating a post-pandemic bucket list is a way to shift your thinking from what you’re anxious about in the future to the positive experiences that could be waiting for you, creating a sense of hope and optimism in the process, SELF explained previously. Your bucket list doesn’t necessarily have to be extravagant or adventurous; it could be just as fun to list the doctor’s office visits, haircuts, and nail salon appointments you’ve put off during the pandemic as it might be to come up with all the places you’d like to travel when it’s safe to do so. The point is to push yourself to realize that there will soon be new possibilities for joy and, yes, some normalcy.
3. Accept whatever you’re feeling. Don’t judge yourself for whatever feelings you have, Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover the Life You’ve Always Wanted, tells SELF. “There’s a whole range of emotions and you can have them at the same time,” Dr. Bonior says. You might be excited to reenter the world, perhaps with new goals and a new perspective on life, while still mourning a loss due to COVID-19. It might be stressful to realize you have those seemingly incongruent emotions, but it’s totally normal and it’s important to let yourself feel everything. “You can be excited and scared at the same time,” Dr. Bonior says. Or you may cycle between different emotions—from happiness to guilt to stress. The key thing to remember is to go easy on yourself, and “be accepting and compassionate of the things you’re feeling,” she says.
4. Reintroduce activities slowly. After being cooped up in our homes for so long, you may feel like you never want to take your freedom for granted again. It might be tempting to plan a get-together, a restaurant outing, and a road trip all in one week. But you may want to hold off on making too many plans too fast. “Practice saying no because we need to pace ourselves,” Dr. Bonior says. “Otherwise, you might exhaust yourself and find yourself disappointed thinking, ‘What’s wrong with me? How come I didn’t feel great going out?’” Instead, take things slowly. Ease into new activities by seeing one friend at a time or planning shorter local trips (if it’s safe in your area). Be gentle with reintegrating into society or you’ll risk burning yourself out by over-committing to everything all at once.
5. Stay informed, but disconnect when you need to. Staying informed is important, especially when it comes to updates in your community that will help you safely start doing more in the world again. But being too plugged in to the news or social media can contribute to anxiety, depression, and general stress. That’s why it’s a good idea to notice when your doomscrolling is no longer productive—and to start taking steps to step back. You can filter the information you take in by limiting the time you spend scrolling on social media, getting your information from only reliable news sources (rather than your Instagram feed), and remembering to take time away from screens can help ease some of the anxiety about what’s to come.
6. Accept that your life may have changed quite a bit during the pandemic. You may be coming out of lockdown with your life—your body, your job, your relationship—seriously different than when you entered it, and that could be contributing to the anxiety you feel, Dr. Burnett-Zeigler says. But accepting that reality, and the idea that things may never return to how they used to be, is crucial Dr. Burnett-Zeigler explains. When you accept your reality, it will be easier to take control and plan your next steps intentionally. That understanding will also help you remember that, over time, the anxiety that comes with reintegration will lessen. “It’s not unusual for people to have difficulty with transition; that’s what we noticed at the start of COVID and that’s what we’ll feel as we transition back to the reentry phase,” Dr. Burnett-Zeigler says. “I think that for most people, reentry anxiety will go away if they manage it in a healthy way.”
7. Reach out for help if you need to. If you’ve tried to manage your anxiety but find you’re still not making progress, it might be time to evaluate how severe your anxiety really is and possibly work with a mental health professional.
“There’s a normal level of anxiety that we’ll all be feeling, and that doesn’t automatically mean we need to seek professional help,” Dr. Bonior says. “The key is to ask to what extent it gets in your way.” If your anxiety is beginning to affect your work life or your relationships with friends, family, or romantic partners, those are signs that it’s time to chat with a professional. And if you find that you’re experiencing physical symptoms, such as headaches, tightness or tension in your neck and shoulders, stomach aches, or difficulty sleeping or concentration, those are also signs that it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional, Dr. Burnett-Zeigler says.
Getting back into the world may seem like just as big of a life-changing transition as it was to switch to remote work, hold all your weekend chats over Zoom, and stock up on face masks. While some people may find it unbelievably exciting, others are likely finding the idea of reentering society to be quite stressful or maybe both. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s important to acknowledge and accept where you’re at and, if needed, find some productive ways to feel comfortable safely returning to your pre-pandemic activities. Anushree Dave is a science and technology writer based in New York City. https://www.self.com/story/re-entry-anxiety-covid
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