Re-entry Anxiety & Returning to ‘Normal Life’
What it is, how it operates and when to seek help
Comfort zones have been our safe spaces amidst the Corona Virus pandemic and rightly so. More than ever we have needed to inhabit spaces that allow us to breath in a time where breathing is deadly. The problem is that when it comes to entering a world with an invisible assassin, we can suffer something known as re-entry anxiety.
Re-entry anxiety exists as a direct result of being cooped up and away from people for a prolonged period of time. A study for Ipsos MORI tells us that 67% of people would feel uncomfortable attending public events in the wake of the Covid-19 epidemic.
49% of the UK workforce don’t feel comfortable going back to work, 39% of which have feelings of nervousness at being forced to do so. It’s hardly surprising that being told how dangerous everything is and how contradictory the rules have been at times has led us to a state of paralysis. More to the point, having time off to experience r&r away from deadlines and impossible workloads has already given a large chunk of the UK workforce time to prioritise their lives in a way that’s not been done before.
Re-entry anxiety is almost totally circumstantial, but that doesn’t mean that you’re feelings aren’t valid. We’ve become habituated to life indoors, which for many has felt comforting. I know that for me having time off where I could just be in my home and take a step back from my responsibilities gave me time to heal. Although I am aware that I have been incredibly privileged for the most part during the lockdown, because this time off has enabled me to truly heal. The thought of going back to the daily grind in the same way as we once did is enough to make me spiral, but throw in the pandemic and I really can’t think of anything worse.
Given that the world seems to be falling apart outside my four walls, I’ll take a cup of coffee, some cheerful tv and a book or two to chomp through any day. Sadly, my early retirement isn’t going to be permanent. I was brought crashing down to Earth when I got the phone call from my manager telling me I had been made redundant. The usual feeling of dread crept in, along with good old guilt and self-doubt.
Why hadn’t I been using this time to look for other work? Why hadn’t I bothered to be more proactive? The truth is that anything I’d have submitted for work would have been lacklustre and the most proactive thing I could do was to keep still. It took all my very nervous energy to do nothing at all.
Now that I finally have things in line, work-wise, I’m realising that all the other hard work I’ve been doing is being tested pretty intensely. Imposter Syndrome is something I talk about a lot on I, Baskerville, and let me tell you that I’ve been feeling the clammy grip of it once more. Thankfully I’m a dab hand at talking to my Imposter these days, but for a second there I faltered.
Re-entering the workplace with re-entry anxiety smacks of all things wrong with the world right now. We feel an aversion to it and quite rightly so. Who wants to risk a poxy salary when the pay off could be your life? I know the answer isn’t simple, but the question really is.
Anyhow, the most important thing we can do right now is to find ways to cope and adapt in the most reasonable ways possible. Here are some tip-top-tips that offer you a starting point. (And some links to professional sources at the bottom, if things are feeling a little too overwhelming right now).
Relearn what you can and can’t control
Loosen your grip on everything. I know that a sense of control can make you feel better equipped to deal with these things, but right now you need to have a solid understanding of what is within your control and what is not. Everything that isn’t, as hard as it might feel to do so, needs to be put on the back burner or moved to the bottom of the list if you don’t feel like you can let go completely. If you keep your energy focused on everything that is wildly out of control the things within your grasp begins to fall away, and often it’s the things we can control that offers us the most stability.
Take it easy, there’s no rush
Rules are bending and being lifted but that doesn’t mean that you should be in any rush to participate in anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Take a gradual approach to things. If you’re feeling social fatigue excuse yourself and go home. If you feel like you’re not ready to hop it to the pub yet then that’s okay. Everything at pace and in your own time.
Don’t lose sight of the people around you who are reaching out a helping hand. Talk to your chosen family and friends on the phone. They need you to check in with them just as much as you need them to check in with you. Don’t get sucked into yourself too deeply. While retrospection is good for healing, it can make you feel even worse when the time will inevitably come for you to come out of your shell.
If it’s becoming a bigger problem, and by that, I mean impeding your life in a significant and damaging way then it’s time to put on brave boots to seek some help. If it feels like too much to do right now, remind yourself that your health needs you more than ever.
Check out these links for some help managing your anxiety, reaching out and finding the right help.