Laurie Garber-Amram, LCSW, JCFS Grief & Mental Health Specialist
The sun is shining, the days are longer. The long-awaited vaccine is accessible to more and more people. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 have declined. There is talk of getting together once again with family and friends. Businesses and workplaces roll out reopening plans. Is this not the day that we’ve yearned for over the course of a long year marked by change, uncertainty and loss? Yet many feel ambivalent at this very moment. The sense of apprehension and even dread at the thought of life returning to “normal” is called “re-entry anxiety.”
Why are so many feeling anxious? Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that ranges from mild to severe. Anxiety is meant to protect us from harm. If we’re a bit worried and on alert, vigilant for people, places and situations that might hurt us, then we can make choices to keep us safe. Anxiety is a response to stress that enables our bodies to react faster in emergencies. It is understandable that we feel anxious at times when we consider anxiety’s protective function. While there were aspects of sheltering in place that we were less than happy with, many feel a sense of safety and control at home where it is possible to avoid being in contact with people or situations where the virus could be transmitted.
With Passover just behind us, we recall Moses leading the Israelites out from the confines of slavery and toward the Promised Land. Midway through the Exodus, they get cold feet and ask if it would have been better to die in Egypt with a full belly than face the challenge and uncertainty of the journey ahead? Then, as now, we wonder if the predictability of our lock down lives is preferable to the unknowns that lie ahead in the “new normal?"
Over the past year, we’ve received information that seems reliable, only to then change. One day the news reports that variants of the virus have been discovered or that there are spikes in cases appearing after spring break and holiday gatherings. Then, soon after, we learn that restrictions on certain activities have eased, allowing for more gatherings. It can be hard to know what is right and how to proceed. You may feel doubt about choosing a course of action especially when family and friends make different choices than you. Because people cope with uncertainty and stress differently, it is realistic to expect a range of responses to re-entry from careless abandon to extreme caution.
There is no “right” way to re-enter. Each individual’s re-entry circumstances differ. Accepting what you feel as a reasonable response can help you to determine what you need to feel safe and secure as you move forward and engage with life. Self-care strategies such as working with focused, deep breathing, noticing and replacing negative, anxiety producing thoughts with more accurate and truthful statements, or distracting yourself with movement, a walk around the house or outdoors, can help to dissipate tense anxious feelings. There are effective ways of addressing anxiety all along the continuum that ranges from cautious behavior to feeling immobilized by fear. If you are feeling stuck or finding it difficult to make decisions on the way forward, please consider consulting with a caring professional or joining one of our many support groups. Call us at 855.275.5237 to learn more.