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5 Ways to Cope as You Re-enter the World

By Pam Dewey • mental health, anxiety, coping, covid, covid-19, covid anxiety, social anxiety, fear • June 10, 2021

With vaccines more readily available and CDC and state guidelines loosening up, you can start doing more things safely, like going out to eat, attending concerts and gathering inside with family and friends. But just because the CDC says it’s safe doesn’t mean you feel ready. The thought of gathering might make you feel anxious or scared. 

We’ve spent the past year isolating from other people and worrying about catching or passing on a deadly virus. These concerns won’t magically disappear overnight. Here’s how to cope when you start to re-enter the public sphere.

It’s okay to have mixed feelings

Most people are excited to see friends, family and coworkers and eventually stopping wearing masks. While you may be looking forward to catching up with everyone, the idea might also make you nervous. You might also have come to rely on your mask for a sense of safety. Giving it up might make you feel scared. You may also feel more afraid if someone close to you had a severe case of COVID-19 or died.

You are allowed to feel more than one emotion at once, particularly after the complicated and difficult past year. Being happy, sad and scared — all at the same time — is perfectly normal. Let yourself feel your emotions because bottling these up will only make you feel worse later.

Having no anxiety at all is unlikely

Spending time around other people and being out in public settings will take getting used to. According to The New York Times, “As long as things you want to do are considered safe or very low risk, don’t wait until the day when you have zero anxiety about doing them.” Just because you’re feeling anxious doesn’t mean what you’re doing is dangerous. And if you wait until you don’t feel nervous at all, you may never get back out there. When you try something new — like rollerblading or baking — you feel nervous because of the possibility of failure, but it’s a part of the learning process. Right now, you’re re-learning how to socialize and attend events, so give yourself some grace.

Start small

One way to ease yourself back into society is by starting small. Maybe plan a single outing per week, have one friend over for a visit or try a small restaurant patio. Trying to attend a large concert or eating in a crowded restaurant might be too much right away.

If you’re nervous about returning to the office, start by going in just 1 day a week, and then work your way up to spending more time in the office. It’s also okay to let your manager know you’re struggling, so they can provide you with some flexibility. You might also ask your employer if there’s an opportunity for part-time or full-time remote work. Over the past year, you’ve shown you can work effectively at home, so your employer may have re-evaluated its position on this policy.

You don’t have to go “back to normal”

One good thing about the past year was that many of us re-examined how we live. Spending more time at home translated to more time with family and pets, more home-cooked meals and for many, more leisure time. It also meant less time commuting and less time rushing between social engagements.

You don’t have to resume an overbooked social calendar. It’s exciting to see friends and family again, but you don’t have to make plans every weekend. Leave space for the things you’ve enjoyed during the past year, like game night with your family or spending time hiking with your best friend.

Reach out if you need help

Being anxious is normal, but anxiety that paralyzes you is cause for concern. If you’re struggling with grief after the death of a loved one, can’t sleep or have lost interest in activities you usually enjoy, you may be experiencing depression. Don’t be afraid to talk to a doctor or reach out to a mental health professional. Sometimes, we need help managing our mental health, and this past year has been particularly hard.