Anxiety management on re-entering

Over the last several months, I have been observing an upward trend in folks reaching out for support around management of anxiety. Historically, anxiety and depression have always been the two most common reasons for self-referral for therapy.¹ However, recently, anxiety has seen an even greater uptick in requests for therapy.

Anxiety has been more present, more palpable, and less acceptable2 for many of us as the world re-opens. At the height of the pandemic, we were already worried about death & dying, illness, lack of resources, finances, racial justice issues, political concerns, stability, relationship sustainability, rules/guidelines, other’s integrity, and our ability to survive. Now we are carrying that experience of deepened worry with us as we try to re-enter the world. A world where many of us had functioned without these existential worries previously due to privilege or luck – With these new existential worries, we feel nervous.

You might see anxiety in yourself when:

  • Going into a restaurant or grocery store for the first time, and no one is wearing a mask.  
  • Friends ask you to socialize with them or ask you to resume some of your community responsibilities. 
  •  Your loved ones or partner seems unphased by nervousness and trepidation and you feel worried about being worried.  
  • Your child’s daycare informs you that your child has a runny nose and then is not allowed at school. 

You might be nervous about all of these experiences and more.

This is expected and EXTREMELY NORMAL right now. Countless people are reaching out wanting to talk about how nervous and frightened they feel and how frustrating that anxiety is given we have been waiting for this phase for more than a year.  

There are reasons for this anxiety, and it is valid. Our brains try to survive perceived threats when they feel shock and unfamiliarity. That is what has kept us surviving through uncertain, dangerous, and unprecedented times. It is also the mechanisms that make us feel unsafe when we are resuming our “normal”lives, even though at one point our lives were always full of the elements we can begin to enjoy again.

This phase may not be comfortable or feel pleasurable, but we are going to survive it.  Rest assured – it is a phase – and something else will come next. If we care for ourselves through adversity we grow and develop from it. That we know and our brains can be certain of.

  1. Understand that we are passing through an experience and the sooner we recognize it will change, we will progress.
  2. Be available to internal experiences of nervousness, fear, anxiety, and panic.  Those feelings tell us something about ourselves and the moment.
  3. Be prepared to feel discomfort in situations you believe you should be comfortable.  Anxiety does not function the way we believe it should, that’s what makes us nervous.
  4. Be kind to yourself.  The fastest way to increasing our anxiety is by telling ourselves we should not be anxious.
  5. Get help from others that understand.  Express to those that you feel emotionally safe around how you are feeling and be open to them checking in on you.
  6. Take breaths at the peaks and valleys of anxiety.  We have to remember these are moments not lifestyles and the best way for our bodies to remember that is to inhale/exhale thoughtfully.  

Footnotes:

  1. (Side note, from my perspective, those anxiety/depression experiences are often related to experiences of psychological trauma and if we work on the trauma we work on the anxiety/depression)
  2. Anxiety is 100% acceptable, BUT the anxiety we are feeling FEELS less acceptable because many of us have been looking forward to the re-opening. We have not been preparing ourselves for how hard it will be. We have been focusing on how good it will feel. Anxiety is more prevalent but for those of us who have believed throughout the entire pandemic that re-emergence will solve everything, having anxiety right now feels like something we are confused, shocked, and caught off guard by, making it FEEL less acceptable. The hardest part about anxiety is that it gets bigger the more we try to talk ourselves out of it. Thus placing people in uncomfortable positions because we do not feel that it is valid given we are “supposed” to feel happy and calm about re-emergence. 

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