How to deal with re-entry anxiety if you're worried about lockdown lifting2020-05-13
As people rejoice at the prospect of going to pubs and seeing their pals again, it can feel like you’re the only one experiencing a sense of dread at the prospect of things going back to normal.
You’re really not alone in this feeling, though.
Whether it’s fears of going back to work in an office, worries about readjusting to a faster pace after months of slowing down in lockdown, or troubling thoughts about your health, anxiety around the idea of lockdown lifting is totally normal.
It’s so normal, in fact, that there’s a name for it: re-entry anxiety,
Dominique Antiglio, a sophrologist at BeSophro clinics and author of The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology, explains: ‘Re-entry anxiety is a form of stress associated with the fear of being unable, or not wanting to re-adapt to previously established routines and environments i.e. going back to ‘normal’ – this can be in relation to a return to work or a return to a way of living.
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‘In the instance of lockdown, it is a return to both.
‘The impending disruption caused by us having to adapt to our environment again, where new rules will apply and previous conventions will no longer seem to work or feel relevant, can exacerbate the feeling of isolation and loneliness.
‘Fears associated with re-entry anxiety can range from the stress of commuting to and from work, the dread of being overburdened with work, concern about returning to a toxic work environment, to fear of busy crowds and not feeling adequately protected in our environment, or generally feeling unable to keep up with the pace of change and enforced social measures.
‘The thing to remember is that this is anxiety is totally normal, especially after having lived through two months of deep change to our daily lives, which has totally disrupted our work, family and social lives.’
If this all sounds familiar, don’t stress – there are steps you can take to deal with these negative emotions in anticipation of lockdown lifting.
Acknowledge how you’re feeling
Take some time to work out what specifically is worrying you and what’s triggering your anxiety.
Are you worried about your health? Returning to an unpleasant working environment? Having to adjust to new expectations and workloads?
Once you know exactly what it is that’s troubling you, you can either adjust or adapt – meaning changing the reality or adapting your thinking around it.
For example, maybe you’re worried about going back into the office and falling into an old routine of working long hours and wasting your evenings. You can use that thought as fuel to adjust your work/life balance and work up a plan to ensure you stick to your working times and fill your evenings with things you ove.
Or if you’re nervous about going back to an office with loads of people, you can adjust your thinking, reframing the socialising as a positive thing rather than something scary.
‘Once you know what is driving your reluctance, you can start to rewire how you feel about it so you can view it from a different mindset, essentially thinking your way into a more positive state,’ Dominique eays. ‘Socialising is incredibly beneficial for feeling like we ‘belong’, having a sense of community and does wonders for our mental health, so you might start to see the health benefits of your work environment instead of it being a fearful environment.
‘Or you might view the expectations placed on you as a form of admiration and competency, which can help you build up the confidence to train others up so you can delegate the workload so you’re not taking it all on.
‘You might not be able to change external world, but you can decide how you are going to experience it.’
Use this time as an opportunity for change
If lockdown and re-entry anxiety has helped you realise you’re desperately unhappy with some part of your pre-pandemic life, it’s time to change it.
That might mean talking to your boss about flexible working hours, ending a relationship, quitting a job, or changing how you spend your free time.
Dominique says: ‘If you are coming up against real hurdles, use this transition time as your opportunity to verbalise it.
‘Everybody – your family, boss, colleagues and company, will have been affected one way or another, so it’s an opportune and appropriate time to share your thoughts, insights, learning, wants and needs.
‘In fact, companies are actively welcome feedback during this time, so be confident about making clear what your needs are at work, how change can be beneficial to the company, and put boundaries in place where you need to.
‘Verbalising your thoughts can help to build your confidence and give you back a sense of control when everything else may be chaotic. This is a healthy approach to managing the anxiety – nobody should be going back onto auto-pilot to exactly what they were doing before.’
Try not to let your mind run on a negative thought loop
You probably already know the importance of staying in the moment and grounding yourself – but it really is key.
If you find yourself catastrophising – meaning thinking of the worst possible scenarios – it’s vital to press pause and refuse to let your thoughts spiral. You’ll only end up causing yourself unnecessary stress.
How to do The Pump to relieve anxiety and stop catastrophising
If you find your mind running wild with negative thoughts, try this sophrology technique, called The Pump.
- Stand tall, close your eyes, allow your arms to fall by your sides
- Mentally locate where in the body you feel the stress, anxiety or tension, and clench your fists
- Exhale through your mouth, take a deep breath in through your nose, and hold the breath
- Now ‘pump’ both your shoulders up and down until you need to breathe out
- As you exhale, allow your clenched fists to relax, visualising all your tension and anxiety draining out through your fingertips
- Repeat the process for as long as you need to release any lingering agitation
Keep an ‘anchor’
When everything’s changing, it’s helpful to have something that can remain constant and anchor you to your usual life.
‘As creatures of habit, we crave consistency and routine, so returning to an environment where norms no longer apply, working practices have changed, not all work colleagues are present, communication and interaction are at a distance or digitised, can throw us off our sense of ‘belonging’, we might even start to question our ability to perform at work,’ says Dominique.
‘So having an anchor that we can return to – making a cup of tea around the same time, going for a short walk during the day, finding 10 minutes for yourself in a meeting room to practice some calming breathing – will help you create a sense of routine and make you feel more in control during a time of change.’
Keep a gratitude journal
Or just write down one good thing that happens a day. Any way you can record the positive and actually write it down is a wonderful habit to get into.
Dominique says: ‘Getting into the habit of being grateful for all the wonderful things you have around you is a brilliant way of counteracting the anxiety.
‘Each morning, by simply writing down at least one thing (or three things or more ideally!) that you are grateful for that day is going to remind you of the best things in life even when the anxiety may be making you feel like your worst.
‘And when you feel like you might be dwelling on the anxiety, consciously try to flip that thought so instead, you can dwell on the things you are grateful for.’
Don’t feel pressured to rush
Look, a pandemic is a completely reasonable reason to feel overwhelmed, and going from lockdown back into ‘normal’ life is quite an adjustment.
Take things slow, be gentle with yourself, and take the time to look after yourself rather than feeling like you have to jump straight back into exactly how things were before.
Talk it out
Dominique says: ‘If it can only be done virtually, then socialise with friends, family and colleagues virtually! Never underestimate the power of a good talk.
‘Sometimes, talking through your thoughts aloud with a friend can be a great way of understanding where your concerns stem, and where you might be able to nip them in the bud or start to address them.
‘Having someone to bounce thoughts against and be a support system can be really cathartic and help to lighten the metaphorical load so you can think more clearly and creatively about your hurdles.’
To talk about mental health in a private, judgement-free zone, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.
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