If getting back to your life after COVID-19 isn’t the cakewalk you thought it would be, you may have some company.
Though most of us claimed we couldn’t wait to jump back into the deep end of life after nearly 16 months of isolation, working from home and communicating with friends and family via video chat, much of the country has opened post-vaccinations. Problem is, some of us have developed a little re-entry anxiety.
“I am feeling apprehensive and nervous about things returning to normal,” says Alison Angold, 49, from London. “My plan is to take things slowly and only do things that I feel comfortable with — going out with small groups of people that I know well and possibly only going out for a few hours at a time.”
Post-pandemic re-entry anxiety is real
Post-pandemic re-entry anxiety is real, says Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, a psychiatrist in Katy, Texas. “And many people are still at home and not going out unless very necessary,” she adds.
It’s understandable. Daily essential activities were put on hold for more than a year and things like partying, traveling, meeting friends and being in crowds are making some people anxious.
Just like we had to learn to isolate and social distance on a dime at the beginning of the pandemic, jumping back into the water (in some minds — possibly shark-infested) is giving many of us pause.
“If a muscle isn’t used, it atrophies,” says Iliniza (Nisa) Baty, a psychotherapist, and director of behavioral health at Venice Family Clinic, a nonprofit community health center in Los Angeles. “Consider the thought of ‘How do I navigate and go out?’ as an atrophied muscle. We need to consciously think about how to do this again and recognize that it will be a process that requires small steps to get back to feeling comfortable.”
What some people feel anxious about
What’s more, Gonzales-Berrios says, some people may resist the shift back to their old routines because the pandemic has left a deep-seated trauma that will take time to heal from its roots.
There may be a fear of contracting the illness or grief for what was lost: friends or loved ones, jobs or businesses. Recovery may take time.
That said, a 2020 study in the journal “Psychological Science” found that older adults are less anxious than their younger counterparts these days. Despite being more at risk for complications of COVID-19, they report fewer negative emotions and better emotional stability overall.
But if you do have re-entry fear, it’s important to take a step back and look at the roots of it. Is your anxiety related to the global pandemic or fear based on your own experience?
This psychology behind the anxiety is normal and may include:
Fear of contracting the coronavirus
Fear of going in public, since you won’t know who’s vaccinated