5 tips to calm your covid re-entry anxiety
The rate of anxiety in mothers has tripled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world starts to re-open, this has translated into worries about:
- Going into public places again
- Being back in social settings or the workplace
- Contracting COVID-19 even when fully vaccinated
- How friends and family may have changed during the pandemic
These are all symptoms of what psychologists are calling “re-entry anxiety”.
In this blog post, we offer five tips to help ease your re-entry anxiety symptoms and resume a “normal” life in a post-COVID world.”.
1. Be aware of what you can and can’t control
The pandemic left many of us feeling like we’ve been stripped of control, so unpacking this is a helpful exercise. A good place to start is by taking stock of what you can and can’t control in your life.
The best way to do this is by writing down a list. Be honest with yourself.
Some of the things you probably can control include:
- Wearing a mask
- Getting vaccinated
- Following guidelines around social distancing
- Choosing the people you want to see
- Spending time with vaccinated or unvaccinated people
On the other hand, things that are out of your control likely include:
- Whether or not your family/friends get vaccinated
- Whether or not your family/friends wear masks, attend large gatherings or follow other guidelines
- Whether or not you contract COVID despite taking precautions
After you’ve made this list, view it as a guide to what you should and should not worry about. Try to discard the things outside of your control, and focus on those things you can control.
As part of this process, it’s also important to realize your influence. You can’t make your family behave in a manner that keeps them safe from COVID, but by practicing your own precautions, you might influence them to do the same.
For instance, if you’re getting vaccinated, invite your partner to come along with you and get vaccinated as well. (Just remember that they might not say yes.)
Finally, when things are out of your control, it’s important to work on your emotional state.
Developing a realistic sense of control involves tackling problems within your influence. However, when you don’t have control over a situation, you have no choice but to try to cope with it.
Try practicing a relaxation technique, like deep breathing, meditation, physical exercise or a hobby.
Ultimately, focusing on what you can control is like building a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.
2. Schedule a specific time to worry
Another way to cope is to schedule a specific time in the day to worry. In fact, a 2012 study showed that restricting worries to a certain time period each day was more effective than worrying throughout the day. Those who worried on a fixed schedule were more likely to exhibit greater control over their emotions.
To put this into practice, try scheduling a 15-minute period every day to purposely worry.
Suppose that you choose 4 - 4:15 pm each day. At 4, consciously think about all of your worries that you can’t control. You can even write them down. Once those 15 minutes are up, make the conscious decision to go back to your everyday life.
If you feel any lingering worries reappearing throughout the day, try to remind yourself that you’ll have the chance to focus on them later – but not now.
Worrying for 15 minutes a day is a lot better than 24/7. With enough practice, you’ll be able to contain your worries to this time window.
3. Create a “COVID policy” for yourself
If you work for a big company, chances are they’ve developed a policy of some sort to outline operations during/following the pandemic.
Policies like this aren’t only for big corporations. In fact, you can create your own too.
Creating your own COVID policy can not only help you stay safe, but also reduce your anxiety by having a plan in place.
To get started, think about all the ways you want to live your life from this point forward and write them down. You might take these factors into consideration:
- You and your family’s risk factor for COVID-19 (age, vaccination status, etc.)
- How lockdown affects your social and mental health
- How lockdown affects your children’s social and mental health
- Whether or not your children need daycare
- Whether or not you want your children to do remote schooling
- Whether or not you want to continue wearing a mask
- Whether or not you will be seeing unvaccinated people
Here’s an example of a COVID policy developed by Steph. Both Steph and her partner are 35 years of age and their child is 2. Both adults have had their first vaccine and are due to receive their second dose in a few weeks. Steph and her child have asthma, while her partner has no pre-existing conditions. The lockdown has been difficult on everyone’s mental health and Steph thinks that getting her child back to daycare will help.
This policy allows Steph to enjoy seeing other people, while still respecting her boundaries for her own personal safety.
4. Communicate your “COVID policy” to your family and friends
Once you make your policy, it’s important to stick to it. To help you do this, you’ll have to talk about it with your family and friends. However, this creates the possibility of conflict – especially if others have different opinions.
The types of conflicts you might face include:
- Disagreement over whether or not to put your children back in school/daycare
- Differing opinions over whether or not to visit with unvaccinated people
- Disagreement over whether or not a mask is still necessary
Suppose you’re not comfortable with hanging out with unvaccinated people, but one of your close unvaccinated friends wants to meet up for coffee. How do you talk to your friend about your values without offending them?
Here are some tips to handle the conversation effectively:
Prepare for conversation
- Define the purpose of the conversation (e.g., to express your discomfort in seeing unvaccinated people).
- Identify your ideal outcome (e.g., for your friend to understand why you are uncomfortable with seeing them, while respecting their values).
Schedule a time and place for the conversation
- Tell your friend that you want to call/talk with them at a specific time and place (e.g., a video chat on Tuesday at 8pm).
- This can help minimize outside distractions.
Focus on the issue at hand
- Don’t beat around the bush, jump right in. Minimize small talk, be up front and address the issue.
- Explain that you’re having this conversation because you want to talk about a shared issue (e.g., your friend doesn’t want to be vaccinated due to personal values, but you’re concerned about COVID safety).
Listen openly to their perspective
- Listen to your friend’s reasons about why they don’t want to be vaccinated (e.g., that getting vaccinated is against their religious beliefs).
- Try to empathize with their reasons and put yourself in their shoes (e.g., you understand that their faith is important to them and that it’s their choice what they do with their body).
Seek a solution
- Try to work together to figure out a compromise that will maintain your relationship and minimize offense being taken (e.g., to see each other occasionally, but keep the visits outdoors or wear masks).
Your friend should be able to understand your values and respect your boundaries, while you do the same for theirs.
5. Make a bucket list of what you want to do again
Finally, in order to ease your re-entry anxiety, try getting excited about the future. A fun and simple way to do this is by making a list of the things you’re looking forward to doing again or trying for the first time.
After so many months in lockdown, the possibilities seem endless! Going to the movies, attending a concert, seeing a sporting event, going on vacation, taking up a new hobby, etc.
To help organize your thoughts, write down 10 bucket list items that you want to complete by the end of the year. It is important to make the items specific, achievable and time-bound.
Making a bucket list will help you focus on the positives to come, rather than just worrying about the future.
Going back to “normal” life after so many months of disruption and social isolation can feel daunting. It’s understandable to have re-entry anxiety.
However, by taking these 5 actions, you can ease your worries and focus on the positives of what the future holds.