With restaurants and pubs opening around the UK this weekend and lockdown measures lifting across the world, there is a sense that life pre-corona is slowly returning.
For most of us the past few months will have been an emotional rollercoaster, adapting to new rules and ways of living, then just as we get used to the ‘new norm’ things change again, leaving us in a constant state of stress and anxiety. As shops re-open, children return to school and businesses welcome staff back to the office, a new kind of anxiety comes with it.
‘Re-entry anxiety’, is a type of stress and anxiety related to the fear or worry of returning to normal life and leaving lockdown. This type of anxiety can come from worry about catching the virus, fear of leaving the house or being in busy public spaces where you might feel vulnerable.
We are all dealing with this crisis differently, your experience will be different on any given day and will be influenced by where you are physically in the world, government guidelines around what you can and cannot do but also your mental energy and mindset will play a huge role in how you respond to the challenges you are facing daily. Here are my top five strategies to help you adjust to life after lockdown and manage re-entry anxiety.
Take things one day at a time
Don’t rush back to normal if there are some things you feel apprehensive about. If the office re-opens and you are anxious about returning, then speak to your boss about going back gradually and build it up slowly. It is important to do things at your own pace.
Stay in your own lane
Don’t compare other people’s actions with your own, if your friend is happy to go to the pub and meet groups in the park but you still don’t feel comfortable, then don’t do it. It is important to recognise that we all cope with things differently and are at different stages of this pandemic, mentally and emotionally.
Recognise what you can and cannot control
Accepting that you cannot control some situations but can control how you react to them is a key coping strategy. Always direct the lion’s share of your attention, energy, and effort to what you can control, not what you cannot.
Start by asking yourself what parts of this process are within my control? Write down all the things that are in your control, then proactively put in place those actions to regain that control. Also try listing out where you have no control of, recognise its out of your hands and draw a line under it. Then try to reframe it to put yourself in control and back in the driver’s seat.
Check your internal dialogue
Recognise when you are having negative thoughts or chats with yourself. Because of all the change and uncertainty, it is easy to get caught in a negative thought loop. It’s not our fault, the human brain is wired to pay more attention to the negative. It is called negative bias and is a natural evolutionary response designed to keep us alive. While this is super useful, if we don’t close down the negative thoughts they will take over and this can have a huge impact on our mental health and mindset. Learn to recognise when your thoughts are helpful and when they are not.
Create your own emotional first aid kit
Just like you would reach for a plaster if you cut your finger, you need to have an emotional equivalent for when you feel anxious. Exercise, breath technique, gardening, journaling, and baking are all great ways of quietening an anxious mind. You just have to find the coping strategy that works for you and practise it regularly.
If you are struggling with re-entry anxiety, try not to put too much pressure on yourself to adjust, talk to a friend and work out strategies that feel comfortable and achievable. You can also contact Samaritans who offer a confidential listening service, 24/7 on 116 123.