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  • Writer's pictureMichael McEntee

Coping With the Reality of Re-Entry Anxiety

Anxiety is an important survival tool. What we refer to as anxiety is a physiological response to stress that puts our bodies into alert mode — by speeding up our heart rate and breathing — so we can spring into action in case there’s danger. So while the experience of having anxiety may be uncomfortable, it can also be really useful.

To be clear, not all anxiety is useful, and even people who don’t have a diagnosed anxiety disorder may feel more of it these days than they can reasonably deal with. Some anxiety will make you more thoughtful and compassionate, but if the anxiety is really painful then you might need a therapist or a support group. Listen to your body and take care of yourself. If you feel just enough anxiety to stay masked up when you should be and it’s not debilitating, it’s probably fine. If you are quaking in fear at the thought of re-engaging in pre-covid activities, don’t ignore that fear. Seek support and take it slow.

The apprehensive feelings some of us are having can be justified. COVID-19 is still out there and is still a threat, being cautious is warranted, and your anxiety may help you stay careful.

The vaccine rollout means that we are moving forward in promising ways, so it’s easy to get overzealous and try to jump right back into mask-less dinner parties and social gatherings — but all of the experts are cautioning against it. It is likened to having been through a collective trauma over the last year or more. It is prudent to respect that trauma.

Be as gentle with yourself as you would with anyone else who has just experienced a traumatic event. Think about it this way: If you were interacting with a friend who had just been in a bad car accident, you probably wouldn’t take them right from the hospital to a raging party. The same logic applies here. Slow, acclimatising, experiences are better than jumping into the deep end and being unprepared for how you may respond. Having a plan may help you cope with the combination of real risk and anxiety, and it also may be a resource that helps you navigate yet another uncertain time. Reflect on what is actually important to you going forward so that you can make choices with purpose and confidence. Think about what you have missed the most this year, is it family and friends? Live music? Going to shops instead of having things delivered? Simply sitting in a cafe watching life go by, rather than being forced to drink/eat everything “on-the-go.”

Write it out, talk it, plan it out. You can do this alone or in a support group/bubble. However you feel right now, you are not alone and other people want to talk about it, too. So let them join in. You can also ease your transition by doing some things outside and some things online. For example, all forms of exercise don’t necessarily have to be immediately taken in an anticipated crowded gym. Pace yourself; spread things out.

Some people won’t understand your anxiety. Some will see immediate reintegration as - frankly - unproblematic and exciting. However, take time out to prepare yourself for such differing ideas about how to move back into public social life. As usual, that means boundaries and conversations about boundaries. We can use this moment of pause to actually give us time to talk about and plan for what we want to happen next.

You’re probably still going to need to have some conversations about social distancing. And, again, it’s okay if your ideas don’t exactly line up with the people around you, as long as you’re willing to talk it out. At this point in the pandemic, most people are pretty understanding about issues of emotional and mental health. Also, just because the government says something is safe doesn’t mean you have to do it immediately. If the experts say something is safe but you’re not ready for it, then simply come out of your COVID shell gradually and at a pace you're comfortable with.

Extracts taken from Tracey Anne Duncan from

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