Do you feel uncomfortable as lockdown is being lifted? Do you sometimes become upset from other people’s happiness as they roam the outdoors? Does your mood fluctuate, and have you even had panic attacks, accompanied with trembling, sweating, hot flashes, and shortness of breath? If these symptoms have recently become familiar to you, maybe you are experiencing a bout of “re-entry anxiety”.
If this is the case, let me start by saying that you are not alone. As the numbers of infected go down, and countries reopen, the levels of fear and anxiety are still on the rise. Worrying about being infected by the virus is just one aspect, another is worrying about facing the society. While the “extroverts” seemingly can’t wait to meet their peers after few months of being stuck at home, there are many for whom getting back into the swing of society is a scary process, and where socially isolating came with an element of much needed comfort.
If you have difficulties re-entering the normality of everyday life, what can you do to help yourself in the transition?
Make space for the anxiety
The key is to not deny that you are feeling the way you do. Denying how you feel is like denying your humanity. Try to practice accepting that anxiety is part of the human experience. Anxiety comes and goes, at its own accord, just like heavy rain might suddenly render an outdoor activity impossible. Most of the time, you might already have a plan B, say, you decide to watch Netflix on your couch, rather than cry over the spoiled outdoor plan.
One way to accept the anxiety is to take a deep breath and create a ‘worry list’. Write down each of your worries on a piece of paper. And if you are not into paper and pen, you can type it on your computer or your note-taking app. What is important is that you are listing, in writing, all of the worries you have on your mind and in your heart.
Focus on what you can control
While there are a lot of uncertainties associated with Covid-19, there are still some things that you can control. Split your ‘worry list’ into what you can and cannot control. For instance, you can control how much social media you permit yourselves to scroll through per day, but you cannot control the amount of people who are breaking social distancing rules. Be prepared for it to be daunting if you realize you have a lot of worries that you cannot control. That is okay. Prioritise finding solutions for the worries that you can control instead.
Focus on the facts
The world will have to learn to live with Covid-19 for a long time. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you are getting updated information on the virus from trusted sources. This will help you make informed decisions as you transition into a “new normal” after lockdown. There is a lot of fake news and conspiracy theories that spread fear and conflict, and sometimes it is hard to distinguish between what’s true and false. A good reminder is that fake news tend to be much more ‘juicy’.
Also, if you get into a state of being overwhelmed by reading the news, take a break from the constant influx of news for a while. Sometimes ignorance really is a bliss.
Take baby steps into re-entry
Expose yourself only a little bit at a time. Avoid crowded areas when taking these first ‘baby steps’ into normal life. You could start by taking a short walk just outside your house, and then progress to walking in the park. From here on, maybe you want to try and eat out, of course while following the rules of social distancing. And if you have a close family member or a friend, why not bring them onboard with your gradual exposure experiment?
Trust your resilience
Remember that you are resilient. Many people actually do acquire skills and become stronger after a crisis. Humans are known to bounce back quickly from difficult situations. Some may take longer to recover, but the good news is, most of the time they still recover. It is important to recognise this potential in yourself. You have accepted and made room for the anxiety, you have honoured your worries, and taken the proper precautions. Now it’s time to acknowledge your strength and resilience.
When should you seek help from a professional?
There are many other things you can do on your own to lessen the anxiety. The above are just a few self-help tips that you can follow. And if you find that the tips do not help you in any way, and if the anxiety interferes badly with your daily functioning, you can seek help from a professional.
Syifaa Mansor offers counselling through It’s Complicated. Visit her profile here.