Dealing with reopening Anxiety

Three top tips from Pam Custers

And just like that, things are back to normal. Hang on a moment – despite what ‘Freedom Day’ may have told us, that’s not quite the case. Although on the surface things look like they’re returning to the way they were before COVID, many of us are facing an anxious August as we juggle just what “normal” means to us now. Experts are calling this Reopening Anxiety.
There is so much to consider as we look forward into the next few days, weeks and months, so it’s little wonder we might feel worried. How do you navigate the risk of COVID when you know your friends are not as cautious as you are? How do you cope with being back in the office? How do you get used to being on a busy train after almost 18 months of fearing proximity to others? How can you maintain balance when it feels like everyone is catching up on a years’ worth of socialising?
Here are our top three tips to manage reopening anxiety:
Understand that your emotions are giving you data
It’s no wonder that you’re feeling anxious. We have had months of cautiously following regulations and feeling as though other humans are just vectors for disease. One tip that may help is to acknowledge that your emotions are not good or bad, they are simply data points to help us understand a situation. So when you notice you’re feeling anxious, take a moment to stop and recognise that “hey, there is something here making me feel uncomfortable”. If you can separate yourself from the emotion, slow down your thought process, and treat it as a data point, it gives you the room to navigate your next steps.
Maintain boundaries and balance
That brings us onto maintaining boundaries and balance. Anxiety might stem from the worry about your health (maybe you’re not comfortable with eating indoors at a busy restaurant yet). It might stem from the sudden influx of social plans. Either way, once you step back and recognise the feeling as a data point, you can start to identify what it is that’s making you feel anxious and accommodate accordingly. Experiment with setting boundaries – maybe you would prefer to socialise outside for the time being, or to keep the windows open. It’s also important to maintain balance. Although it’s tempting to say yes to every invitation, you might need more downtime than you realise. Ensure you’re getting enough time to recharge physically and emotionally.
Work your way towards more stressful situations
Instead of jumping in with a trip to a festival with 40,000 other people (or a Saturday afternoon at Westfield!), build your way up to more stressful situations. Maybe the idea of dinner inside a restaurant with a big group sounds absolutely awful right now, but you also don’t want to miss out. So build up to it. Start with spending shorter periods inside, such as walking around a non-essential shop. Maybe next time try stopping for a coffee at a café. The time after, maybe invite a friend to join you. These small steps can be taken at your own pace and can make the bigger aim seem much less frightening.
Of course, another aspect of reopening anxiety is the prospect of returning to the office. Similarly to the above, consider how you can work with your employer and those around you to smooth the transition. For some, it may be commuting at different times to beat rush hour on the Northern line. For others, it might be slowly working their way back up to being in the office full time instead of going straight from WFH to 5 days a week. There is a real opportunity to reconnect after almost 18 months apart if we give room for people to navigate these next few weeks and months at their own pace.
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