Covid-19 abruptly and unexpectedly changed our lives. One moment we were going about our normal life and the next we found ourselves sheltered at home working and schooling our children.
As the cloud of lockdown lifts in many countries, schools, retail sectors, and places of worship are slowly beginning to open up. Many are breathing a sigh of relief as we adjust to life with some semblance of normality.
But for some the thought of going about life with the uncertainty of the pandemic still hanging over our heads, can bring about new anxieties. And there is a name for it.
“Re-entry anxiety,” is a specific form of stress related to finding difficulty in adapting to your previous routine. It’s similar to motor vehicle accident victims who struggle to get back into a car after an accident.
What Underlies Re-Entry Anxiety?
While the restrictions came quickly, many did not foresee the restrictions lasting this long. Some may have thought that things would return to normal in a matter of weeks rather than months. This is unknown territory for us as we’ve not lived through a pandemic before and re-entry was inevitable.
Nasreen Hoosain, an occupational therapist in mental health says,
“People have become used to being ‘cocooned’ where they have adapted to a safer way of living. The virus/threat is still out there, so for many the fear is still of being infected. Also, change is hard for many, even if the change is for good reasons.”
Re-entry into the world can be at your pace, with certain coping mechanisms in place to process the anxiety. Here’s how you can prepare yourself for re-entry and manage your anxiety around it;
1 – Self-Care
“Self-Care” is a term thrown around quite a bit, often being misconstrued. But Bushra Anwar, psychotherapist and mental health strategist, believes it is the key to coping with re-entry anxiety.
Self-care here does not necessarily mean bubble baths or sweet treats, but according to Bushra it could be as simple as establishing a routine while you are still at home. “Our brains love routines,” she asserts.
Many of us have been having late nights and sleeping late in the mornings and this has left us out of sorts with no real times for anything.
“Start rebuilding some sort of a routine,” she says, “because the familiarity of routine can help stabilize our mood.” It allows your brain to re-adapt and allows you to feel safe when you know what to expect.
2 – Find a Support Person
Although we seem to be connected more than ever with Zoom meetings and Skype calls, this pandemic still makes many people feel isolated. It helps to have that go-to person that you can talk to about your anxiety. Someone you can be truthful and vulnerable with.
Right now, most of us have been with the same people every single day for months on end. It’s refreshing to have that person that we don’t live with that can give us another perspective. Nasreen, elaborates:
“Have a support person that you can call to talk you through your anxiety so that you still do what you need to do out there with a support structure in place.”
3 – Physical Activity
Getting regular exercise is important for good physical and mental health. When you exercise and get sweaty, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are what your brain experiences when you physically exert yourself.
They help relieve pain and stress, and helps in the production of serotonin. Raising your levels of serotonin boosts your mood and overall sense of well-being. When you feel well rested, and good about yourself you tend to deal with things with more clarity and confidence.
4 – Journaling
While at times our emotions may feel overwhelming, we often don’t have the language or words to express what we are feeling. Perhaps we don’t feel at ease discussing our fears and anxieties with anybody.
We are afraid that people may find us silly or overreacting. Then you need to discuss yourself with yourself, even if it feels confusing in the beginning.
Writing is the perfect way to do this. What am I feeling today? Is there a reason why I am feeling this way? What are triggering these thoughts? What is the worst that can happen? Explore all this on the page.
Just as our body needs food in order to work, nourishment is crucial for our soul. When you write down what you are unable to verbalize, it helps your mind and body to cope with it.
5 – Reliance on Allah
This is indeed what Allah has ordained for us. While we might not be able to know the ins and outs of why, be comforted in the knowledge that we can only rely on Him.
If you want to return to the masjid but are fearful, try to go for one prayer a day. Masjids that have opened up for prayers, are doing so with a protocol in place. Familiarize yourself with the protocol and if you are not comfortable speak to your masjid committees and religious leaders.
Bushra suggests constantly making dua asking Allah to make things easy on you and help you accept His decree.
And most of all be kind to yourself. We’ve been preconditioned to believe that we need to be constantly productive even during this pandemic. But being productive at home can look different to being productive in a job.
Some of us have sheltered at home with a multi generational family unit and the stress of just cooking a meal for everyone can be a daunting task in itself. Being at home surviving a pandemic comes with its own challenges. Affirm yourself in your moments of uncertainty.
Whatever the new normal will be, you will adapt and eventually be comforted by the knowledge that you did.
Lastly, but importantly: don’t underestimate your social responsibility. Restrictions being lifted for economic reasons doesn’t mean people should neglect precautions. This is a shared responsibility of everyone, to protect ourselves and each other..