Despite the large rollout of vaccines in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Psychological Association reports that adults who received a vaccine were just as likely as those who had not to experience “re-entry anxiety.” Heightened by the increase of return to office plans, social obligations becoming more normalized and the loosening of travel restrictions, “re-entry anxiety” is the overstimulation and concern regarding engaging with strangers, family and friends as the country begins to embrace a new “normal.” While some fears are valid, such as exposing yourself and your loved ones to COVID-19, it is essential to distinguish these concerns from irrational anxieties and take charge of your mental health during this societal shift. While COVID-19 fears can largely be kept at bay with safety precautions, re-entry anxiety can also be managed with effective communication, mindfulness techniques and the assistance of mental health professionals.
Here, Dr. Mara Windsor, Valley emergency physician, philanthropist (she is the founder of L.I.F.E. (Living in Fulfilled Enlightenment), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the physical, emotional and spiritual wellness of professionals) and advocate for wellness, discusses ways to alleviate “re-entry anxiety.”
Communicate your comfort level.
Vocalize your boundaries to friends, your workplace supervisors and family members. For a social scenario, this can be done through sending texts asking how many people are attending a gathering, if everyone is vaccinated, agreeing to communicate with each other should anyone fall sick, and confirming everyone’s usage of masks. Or, perhaps instead of meeting colleagues at an indoor restaurant, an open-air patio dinner would be more suited to your needs. Do not be afraid to cancel or request a different kind of outing if you are uncomfortable; this is a delicate transition from what was once normal to a different, more health-conscious lifestyle.
Take changes slowly.
There is no rush to expose yourself to groups of people if you are not ready for that level of interaction. Ask your place of employment if there is a schedule as to who will be in-person at the office rather than working from home. Work through your anxiety by attending small gatherings with friends at home and build up from there. There is no right or wrong pace to reintroduce face-to-face interaction.
Staying in the present moment and using positive self-talk are great methods to calm anxiety. Let the feeling come, acknowledge it, and pause before letting the thought go. Incorporate elements of self-care into your routine through deep breathing exercises, gratitude checks, compassionate journaling and making time for your hobbies.
Find support with mental health resources.
Ultimately, you may find it beneficial to reach out and connect with experienced professionals to address anxiety if your quality of life begins to deteriorate. Talk to your doctor to discuss if you would benefit from working with a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist to cope with mental illness and heal. If attending physical appointments is still outside of your comfort zone, the pandemic has made virtual telehealth meetings more prevalent and accessible than ever before.