Over a year ago I published Grieving Life as it Used to Be as a way to understand our shared emotional experience of COVID-19. Today, as more of us are becoming vaccinated and restrictions are being lifted, rather than feeling excited about getting closer to a state of normalcy some of us are feeling uneasy about a post-COVID-19 world.
You may have heard this sense of uneasiness referred to as post-isolation syndrome or re-entry anxiety. The concept of reintegration can be daunting for a number of reasons — whether we struggle with anxiety more generally or not. Associated stressors may include going back to work at the office instead of from the comfort of your own home, feeling obligated to attend social events and family gatherings again, or fears surrounding the development and effectiveness of vaccines.
The global pandemic has posed a risk on human health and life and as a result, anxiety is an inevitable response to this threat. Known as the fight-or-flight response, anxiety is meant to protect us from danger and allow us to react faster to emergencies. When it came to our ancestors, this stress response prepared humans to either attack back or flee from a life-threatening risk in the environment, such as a dangerous animal or climate condition. Due to the level of uncertainty inherent during this pandemic, anxiety may be a symptom that has helped us navigate safety, engage in appropriate preventative behaviors and exercise caution.
Many people have become habituated to this new way of life; one that has been primarily spent indoors. We began to feel safe and even comforted with the use of a screen facilitating many of our day-to-day interactions. It is understandable why returning to the outside world may be concerning or even anxiety-provoking for individuals.
As our world changes yet again, here are some suggestions to help cope with our transition into a new way of adaptation.
- Manifest Emotions – You may be coming out of lockdown with your life – your body, your job, your relationship – different than when you entered it. Or you may be excited to reenter the world, perhaps with new goals and a new perspective on life. From happiness to guilt to stress, cycling between these different and sometimes incongruent emotions are both normal and challenging. Being accepting and compassionate to yourself allows us to intentionally assess our mechanisms of control which can help us plan our next steps of action towards managing anxiety.
- Taking Control – Finding ways to organize our thoughts can help us feel more in control of our lives. Setting aside time to check in with ourselves is a beneficial way to express and process your thoughts into existence. This can serve as a gateway into trying to find practical solutions to post-quarantine safety. For instance, if you are planning to meet up with friends for the first time in a while, take note of the means within your control (i.e. wearing masks, social distancing, staying outdoors).
An additional tactic we can take upon ourselves can be journaling, the form of free-flowing writing can help gain perspective and clarity as we work to understand our thoughts and emotions better. Another approach can be scheduling a time for worrying. This can also be a useful strategy in managing overwhelming feelings and uneasiness. When worry related thoughts arise during other parts of the day, postponing those to the ‘worry period’ can considerably help with learning to manage what is in our locus of control.
- Taking a gradual approach – Reintegration can be achieved more comfortably by going steadily at your pace rather than by acting quickly and carelessly. Despite whether you are dealing with the temptation of freedom or constantly comparing your decisions to others, it is important to reintroduce activities slowly. Practicing prudence is a strength, especially during transitional periods.
When these thoughts and worries become excessive or start to interfere significantly with your functioning in one or more areas of life it may be time to seek professional help. There are evidence-based treatments to combat anxiety-related concerns and disorders. We welcome you to reach out and schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation to find the treatment provider for you. We are here to support you during these unprecedented times and offer virtual and in-person therapy services to new and existing clients.
Lindsey Enright, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in both of our offices, and virtually to those located in both Maryland and Virginia. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Lindsay!