Re-entry anxiety, it’s a real phenomenon. While one part of you may be eager to get back into the world to experience a semi-normal life, another part of you may be petrified. Going back to the office, venturing outdoors, visiting with friends – all of these activities that used to be automatic can now spark waves of fear and anxiety.
Why? Because your mind has gotten used to a certain way of living during the pandemic that feels safe and under your control. Sheltering in place may be confining, but it is predictable. You know exactly what is coming into and what is going out of your environment. You know how to safely manage your life.
Re-entry adds a range of new ingredients – especially other people – that can literally feel hazardous to your health.
So how do we handle our fear of re-entering?
- Acknowledge that re-entry anxiety is understandable and real. It’s the outcome of sheltering in place in a safe environment that you can control. Going outside of that environment will naturally spark some fear.
- Identify your specific fears. If you are someone who is physically vulnerable to the virus, you may fear contracting it because of more exposure to more people. If you are someone who is generally anxious, your anxiety may be heightened due to anticipatory anxiety. Are you afraid of large crowds? Confined spaces? Returning to work in general? Public transportation? Identify the specifics so that you can address them.
- Once you know the fears, talk about them with others. Better to voice your anxiety than to hold it in. You can do this with a sympathetic friend, a family member, or a hired professional. You may want to consult a physician if you have specific medical concerns or psychological counselor if the anxiety feels debilitating.
- Construct a plan to re-enter that is cautious and gradual. The treatment for anxiety is not to stay locked in. It is to slowly, carefully expose yourself to more experiences so that you can find a way to re-enter your former life. You want to respect the anxiety without letting it hold you hostage.
- If your re-entry anxiety involves work, talk it over with your employer. Many companies are eager to discuss re-entry with their staff and to construct a plan that can help them feel safe. Perhaps you can create a reduced schedule or minimal commuting for the time being.
- Keep doing the activities and routines that you find nourishing. While sheltering in place, have you enjoyed cooking? Do you have an exercise routine that gives you energy? Is there a creative pastime (drawing, singing, dancing) that you’ve put into practice? Those activities can be grounding and soothing to you as you begin to re-enter your former life.
One more thing, if part of what you fear involves returning to a competitive workplace or working endless hours, you may want to consider some longer-range changes. Do you need to re-design your job? Do you need to look for a different work situation altogether? You may not be ready to make any immediate changes, but you can begin to contemplate the kind of work life and home life that will ultimately work for you.
Katherine Crowley – Career Therapist and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.
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