How to Move Through Pandemic Re-Entry Anxiety

After over a year of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is beginning to open up and people are experiencing all kinds of different emotions. Some are feeling a sense of relief that we are starting to move forward, some are reluctant to make forward moves because they feel it is not quite time, and some are experiencing increasing anxiety and other mental health symptoms.

A lot of people have been asking whether their feelings are “normal,” and questioning how they “should” be feeling at this point during the pandemic. Short answer? There is no normal and you can feel however you need to feel.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been labeled as a “mass trauma” (also known as “collective trauma”), which in simplest terms means that the same event or series of events traumatizes a large number of people all in the same time span. Many people are experiencing difficulties with their mental health amidst this pandemic, and it is no surprise that as things begin to open up, these difficult emotions are coming to the surface.

Take a moment to consider how much our brains and bodies have had to adapt to throughout this pandemic…OF COURSE we might experience anxiety, stress, and uncertainty when trying to figure out how to get ourselves back out there in a safe way!

Below are some helpful tips to dealing with re-entry anxiety…

1.Focus on the facts and do your own research into the science behind mask mandates, vaccines, increasing/decreasing numbers, etc. Everyone is going to have an opinion about this, and it is absolutely okay for you to disagree or have a different opinion. When doing your research, be sure that you are getting your information from authentic sources. A few of these sources include the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the WHO (World Health Organization), the NIH (National Institute of Health), or local government websites.

2. Disconnect when you need a break! While it is so important to do that research listed above, you do not need to consume yourself with that research or go down the rabbit hole that is the internet. Check in with yourself when you are researching by asking yourself “Is this helpful for me right now?” If yes, great. Keep going. If it is not serving you in that moment, put the device away and take a break. You do not need all the information at your fingertips at all times.

2. Start small. If you have not gotten yourself out there much throughout the pandemic, there is no need to start with something big. Consider what it would mean for you to slowly get yourself back out there. It could be a walk with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile, sitting outside with a loved one you have missed, or a number of other small moves. Focus on slowly exposing yourself to more interactions in a safe way without feeling the need to jump right back into everything all at once.

3. Give yourself permission to feel the feelings, whatever they might be. Our tendency toward “what’s wrong with me?” for simply having thoughts and feelings is not helpful. When you start putting yourself out there more or even thinking about doing so, a range of complex emotions may arise. Allow yourself to feel those emotions, talk to people in your life that are emotionally supportive, or write down your thoughts/feelings in order to process and move through them.

4. Focus on what you can control. You have dealt with uncertainty before (as evidenced by this entire year). How were you able to get through it? What were the techniques that worked for you when dealing with uncertainty? Put your attention toward what has worked for you in the past, and what small things you can control right now to get through this challenging time.

At the end of the day, this is so hard to navigate, and there is no right way to handle all of it. It is so important to move slowly and reintegrate in whatever ways make you feel safe. These are just some ideas that touch on the surface, there is so much more to all of this that cannot be addressed in one article. If you feel that it could be helpful for you to process this challenging time with a therapist and get more in depth with how to manage this in ways that work for you, don’t hesitate to reach out!

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