The next normal - 4 steps for coping with re-entry anxiety

As vaccination rates increase and we continue to progress through various stages of re-opening, a return to pre-pandemic activities is insight. For some, this change is exciting but for others, a return to pre-pandemic life may be met with feelings of anxiety.

COVID-19 took the world by surprise. In the early days, people feared neighbours and groceries, and there weren’t enough masks for all. As time progressed, governments handled successive waves the best they could, using tools such as vaccines and mandates to control infection rates. After a year or so, restrictions loosened and people began to venture out again.

The bottom line is, after several years in various stages of lockdown, we’ve all adapted to new routines. Some individuals have discovered that they enjoy a less hectic social schedule with more downtime. The prospect of a return to commutes, traffic, and managing busy family schedules may be stressful.

For others, letting go of pandemic rules and restrictions may cause anxiety that is a result of fear for safety. A spectrum of emotions can arise in response to this change and uncertainty. If not handled correctly, you or a loved one may suffer long-term re-entry anxiety or even significant distress about the return to so-called normalcy.

There’s no right or wrong way to handle re-entry. However, a key to protecting your mental health during this transition will be to take things slow, communicate your needs and boundaries, and make time for reflection on how you’re feeling. This can help you manage feelings of anxiety and protect your mental health as effectively as possible – as well as the health of those around you.

How to cope with the challenges of re-entry 

While re-entry anxiety may not affect you strongly, chances are you feel at least slight unease at the thought of returning to life without the pandemic protections we’ve all grown used to. The behaviour of others may also inflict stress upon you.

The best way to cope is to give your feelings space and listen to your own needs. There’s no right or wrong way to feel in these challenging times. Rather, you deserve to give yourself and your family the same consideration you would give anyone else’s feelings.

Whether you’re going out for the first time, finally taking your mask off in public, or simply trying to deal with the changes each new wave brings, you can use these four steps to manage re-entry anxiety.

1. Start slow and warm up

There’s no requirement to jump back into everything all at once. Take things slow and evaluate how you feel along the way. This will help to ease the transition, especially if you are feeling anxious.

For example, if you’re not ready to attend social gathering, start with meeting a friend for coffee. This will still provide important social interaction, and, after each outing, you can re-evaluate your comfort level. Exposure can help expand comfort levels over time, even if you need to stick to those coffee dates and avoid parties for an entire year.

Another strategy is to visualize a function ahead of attending the event. This can help you plan your approach to navigating different situations. What will you do if someone comes too close? Offers to shake hands? Closes a door you left open?

While public health officials have been clear that you’re no longer at significant risk from such things, that doesn’t mean they won’t cause feelings of anxiety. Answering questions ahead of time can return some of the control to you and make you feel more comfortable.

2. Set boundaries

Setting boundaries is a form of self-care. Determine what you are and aren’t comfortable with and communicate your boundaries to others. Be respectful of boundaries that others set – let’s recognize that everyone’s comfort levels will differ. Give yourself permission to leave an event if you’re feeling uncomfortable.

It is possible that some people will want you to change your boundaries to accommodate a gathering or a desire of theirs. That isn’t necessary, and can make your feelings of re-entry anxiety worse afterward. Stay strong and respect yourself.

Note, however, that it is easy to see those who are less risk-averse as cavalier, but those who are more risk-averse as paranoid. Avoid making either judgment to safeguard your relationships.

3. Reflect: What’s worth keeping and what’s worth discarding

The pandemic required us to adapt to new routines. Take notice of self-care practices or other positives that came out of the pandemic and that you want to continue.

For example, you may want to continue taking daily walks or cooking big meals at home for your family. The activities that grounded you during difficult times can still provide a stable mental health foundation for everyday life.

Also reflect on things you don’t want to bring back into your life. Re-opening doesn’t mean that things have to return to exactly the way they were. Treat this as an opportunity to identify what you value most and discard the rest.

4. Reach out for help  

If anxiety around returning to pre-pandemic activities and obligations persists and interferes with your everyday life, consider speaking to a professional. They can provide support and strategies to help you navigate the transition.

Many people want to shrug off their pandemic feelings on the basis of thoughts like:

  • “It’s happening to everyone so we just have to get on with it.”
  • “It will go away if I just keep moving forward.”
  • “What’s wrong with me that everyone else can handle this and I can’t?”

The thing is, you’re not everyone – you’re you. Your feelings of anxiety are normal and you deserve to honour them. Talking to a professional can help you contextualize re-entry anxiety so that it doesn’t control you or make you feel “crazy” in future.

Prioritize mental health for yourself and others

From re-entry anxiety to seasonal sickness, good healthcare is necessary to protect Canadians. Good employers will provide for their workers and enable them to get help for the range of mental and physical conditions in the world today.

If you’re searching for the right solutions for individual or group healthcare, benefit plans, HR systems and more, People Corporation would love to help. We pride ourselves on bringing Canadians the best healthcare resources in the nation, as well as in helping companies and institutions to provide for their teams. Feel free to learn more about us here and get in touch today!


Written by Judy Plotkin, VP Health Strategy, Product & Distribution