Navigating through COVID re-entry anxiety
It is not unusual to feel anxious as lockdowns ease, ‘freedom day’ approaches and there is more and more talk of ‘living with COVID’.
After so many months of being programmed to keep our distance from others and spending more time close to home, is it little wonder some people might feel stressed or scared about readjusting once again to a new way of living?
After all, we’ve been restricted from having visitors or visiting loved ones, conducted remote learning for our kids, worked from home, met over Zoom, not attended in-person events and covered up in public with a mask.
The thought of being thrust back into a ‘new normal’ can, understandably, make some people feel uneasy.
Worrying about coming out of a pandemic bubble is normal and valid – so much so it has been dubbed ‘COVID-19 Re-Entry Anxiety’.
According to This Way Up, a joint initiative of St Vincent’s Hospital and the University of New South Wales, even if you experienced re-entry anxiety earlier during this pandemic, your experience of re-entry anxiety may differ this time around if the COVID-19 situation, your own personal circumstances or levels of anxiety about COVID-19 have changed.
This Way Up, which is funded by the Australian Government, is on a mission to reduce the burden of mental illness by providing accessible online treatment for anxiety disorders and related mental health conditions.
The trusted not-for-profit offers the following suggestions to help you cope if you feeling some re-entry anxiety:
Acknowledge what you’re feeling: It is possible to feel both excited and scared about the future, especially when we don’t have absolute certainty about what will happen. This is totally normal and it’s important not to judge yourself or feel embarrassed for feeling like this. Everyone has a different level of risk appetite and it is okay to feel differently to family and friends about the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Ease yourself in: If you’ve been laying low for months, you don’t necessarily need to suddenly go to crowded spaces, or create a busy social calendar. Start small – plan a get together with one or two people, in a quieter location and work your way up to attending bigger events as restrictions allow, and as you feel more comfortable.
Look at the bigger picture: Try to remember the things you miss about life outside world your home, whether that is gatherings with family or friends, or going to concerts, cafes or other activities. Make a bucket list of the things you’ve wanted to do for the past 18 months but haven’t been able to. You can include activities you’ve enjoyed in the past, or new ones you’d like to try. Let the bigger picture be a motivator to overcoming feelings of anxiety.
Try not to delay: The longer you wait, the worse your re-entry anxiety could become. Remember that social isolation and being housebound isn’t good for your mental health. We are naturally wired to connect with other people and engage with meaningful activities that are important to us. If you can get out and about (safely while following health advice), then it’s important to do so.
Accept that things have changed: There has been a quite a bit of change during the pandemic, and will likely be different for the foreseeable future. Although this might be contributing to your anxiety, it’s important to accept the new reality and start making the necessary steps to adjust. Remind yourself of how you have adjusted already to the range of changes since the pandemic started, and what helped you to adapt.
Use assertive communication: It can help you to have open discussions with others about how you feel and what you are (and aren’t) prepared to do at any given point in time. If you are invited to do something, and aren’t ready for it right now yet might be open to considering it later, explain this and ask them to invite you again later down the track or let them know you will initiate when you’re ready.
Proceed with caution: Continue to follow the necessary precautions as you make changes to your routine. If you have a health condition or are more vulnerable to COVID-19 for other reasons, it’s important to consult your GP for guidance on how to navigate this next season, including discussing a plan with any additional or necessary precautions to take.
Seek support: It’s normal to feel anxiety about the world opening up again, but if your anxiety is overwhelming or getting in the way of your life, it’s important to seek professional help. Speak to your GP if you’re unsure of where to start.
The This Way Up website has a dedicated Coping Tools page offering strategies on navigating challenging situations.