After months of confinement we’re finally getting back out into the world and it’s a lot scarier than it used to be.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how are you feeling about the potential end of lockdown? We are currently on level 1 in South Africa and if everything goes well we may soon find ourselves out of lockdown completely in the near future. That means potentially going back to the office and for a lot of us that prospect can trigger anxiety about re-entering the workplace. Are you well equipped to deal with workplace re-entry anxiety both now and after the lockdown period ends? Come to think of it, what is re-entry anxiety?
Having adjusted to months of staying at home, many South Africans are now faced with the prospect of returning to work and life in the outside world. The virus however has not disappeared. In fact we now face the threat of a second wave and that has done little to assuage the potentially debilitating stress that comes with re-entering society. Since the advent of lockdown the nation has had to face numerous restrictions. Some were very strict like those in level 5 when the country was almost at a standstill and others, like today’s level 1 are much more like the lives we were used to living.
While we speak about self-isolation for those who are infected, this practice has happened for many, consciously or unconsciously, because of the need to be safe. Self–isolation over short or long periods of time can have a serious impact on mental health. As mental health challenges grew or rather became more glaring due to the increasing number of infections and Covid-19 related deaths, many found they needed some form of mental health intervention in order to face life outside of the cocoon again.
So what triggers Re-entry Anxiety?
This anxiety is commonly experienced in the form of fear, nervousness, worry, or dread.
When there is an overwhelming amount of uncertainty, people tend to get anxious and therefore trigger re-entry anxiety. This can come in the form of worries about the health of family members, especially during Covid-19, job losses, financial worries, marriages worries, etc. When we were sheltering from the viral storm, we felt a sense of control. As long as we were not in contact with anyone or anything transmitting the virus, we felt confined, yet safe. Now we are no longer in complete control over our exposure and risk and when a sense of control goes down, stress goes up. Next, our brains helped us adjust to the quarantine extensions by interpreting them as lifesaving. Now, we are trying to convince our brains that it is okay to leave home, go to work, and socialize within guidelines again, although the virus is not gone.
We have become hypervigilant and our brains have a lot to process to understand this new world. In a way our brains are trying to let us act in a way that is both lifesaving and life-affirming. The news and social media are still filled with warnings, dire predictions, and frightening statistics. When we start and end our day with the news, we become anxious about the day ahead and worry about what exposure we might have had yesterday. Seeing people walking around in masks can also make us want to stay home. Masks remind us that there is potential danger all around us, that the danger is invisible, and that life is not back to “normal.”
Masks also make friends look unfamiliar and hide their smiles. However, seeing people wear masks as acts of kindness for others who may be vulnerable because of age or health problems usually quiets those reactions as does the mantra, “this too shall pass.” The thing about anxiety is that the more you focus on it and try to solve it with your mind, the more you stimulate it and end up trapped in it, going round and round in circles.
When is Re-Entry Anxiety a Problem?
When re-entry anxiety becomes excessive or starts interfering significantly with your functioning in one or more areas of life, it is time to seek professional help. The good news is that there are effective, evidence based treatments for anxiety disorders.
Taking good care of your physical and emotional health may even seem like an added chore amidst a hectic pace of life, but, it can be the best thing you can do, not only for your life and well-being, but also, for those around you. When it feels like too much of a chore, is when your health likely needs you the most.
Are we likely to experience Re-entry Anxiety at any point of this pandemic
Re-entry anxiety in the current scenario is normal and even evolutionarily protective. It’s okay and even healthy to experience re-entry anxiety. Just like a certain amount of anxiety is useful for optimal performance in test-taking, similarly, some anxiety in the current scenario can help us stay safe, engage in appropriate preventive behaviors and exercise needed caution.
The key to managing re-entry anxiety is self-care. Sleeping well, eating regular healthy meals, and getting a good amount of exercise (as permitted by your physician), can go a long way in improving physical as well as mental health. Research shows that sleep disorders or chronic sleep deficits can increase risk of anxiety, depression and emotional dysregulation. Having a regular bedtime and waking up time, avoiding blue-light emitting screens an hour prior to bedtime, limiting caffeinated drinks in the evening, maintaining comfortable room temperature, and other sleep hygiene measures can help ensure optimal sleep.
One last important tip, NO ONE WILL TAKE BETTER CARE OF YOU THAN YOU WHEN YOU ARE IN A HEALTHY STATE!!!