The easing of lockdown is generally being portrayed as positive and enjoyable. However, many of us will be feeling worried or nervous. This is sometimes being called ‘re-entry anxiety’. It’s a natural response to a new situation – we’ve never faced this before and it’s understandable to have a range of emotional responses. It took time for us to get used to being in lockdown and it will take time for us to get used to being out of it.
Collectively we have been living in a state of high alert for well over a year. We can’t simply switch that off; it will take some time and adjustment to get used to the idea that it is safe to be out and among other people again.
We are also being faced with situations that have become unfamiliar, like meeting friends again or being in the office, but with new expectations that may feel strange or unnatural, like social distancing. Seeing images of people socialising and enjoying themselves on the news may lead to us feeling under pressure to join in before we are ready or may make us feel that we are missing out if we don’t have so many people in our lives to socialise with.
Here are a few suggestions of things you could try that might help with managing re-entry anxiety.
- Firstly, recognise that your feelings are valid. There is no right or wrong way to respond to this situation – we all cope differently. However you are feeling, it’s ok.
Try to treat yourself with kindness. If you notice that you are beating yourself up or criticising yourself for the way you feel, ask yourself what you might say to a good friend if they were feeling this way. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can in difficult circumstances. Remember that you are not the only person going through this.
- Take your time. There’s no rush; don’t feel that you have to do everything at once. Take things at your own pace.
But do gently challenge yourself. If you are very anxious then larger gatherings or busy places might be something to build up to. Set yourself manageable goals; for example, you could start with meeting just one friend for coffee. And then when when you’ve done that, work up to meeting a few more people.
It’s important that you take steps that are challenging but manageable. This will help you to gradually build up confidence. We can think of it as like climbing a ladder – we do the easier steps first, and then work our way up.
The first few times you go out and meet people might feel really challenging, but it will get easier with time and practice. Each time we face our fears our anxiety reduces slightly, as we prove to ourselves that our worst fears do not come true, and that even if we struggle, we can cope.
- Ground yourself.
If you are feeling anxious or distressed, you may find grounding skills helpful. Anxiety can sometimes make us feel detached from reality. Grounding helps us to connect to the here-and-now.
Use all your senses to ground yourself. An easy way to do this is the 54321 technique:
Name 5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
Repeat this as many times as you need to.
- Breathe slowly – if you notice that you are starting to feel panicky, breathe deeply down into your tummy; put your hand just above your navel and breathe so that your hand gets pushed up and down. Imagine you have a balloon in your tummy, inflating as you breathe in, and deflating as you breathe out. Try to make your out breath longer than your in-breath.
When we get scared, our breathing is often too fast and shallow and our body doesn’t get the oxygen it needs. This can cause dizziness, shakiness and more panic. Breathing more slowly and deeply will help to calm your body down.
- You could make a coping card.
This can be a physical card to place in your wallet or pocket, or a note on your phone. Write down two or three statements to remind yourself that you can cope.
You could also record some coping statements on your phone to listen back to when you most need them.
- Reward yourself – if you face an anxiety-provoking situation such as working from the office for the first time, remember to say ‘well done’ to yourself and do something nice to reward yourself for your achievement, whether that might be spending the evening watching your favourite film, cooking a tasty meal or maybe buying yourself some flowers.
- If the anxiety you are experiencing feels too much to manage alone, do speak to someone you trust. You can contact your GP for additional support if you need it. There is also a wealth of information available online about managing anxiety, including on our Keeping Well NCL website.