Now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted on ‘Freedom Day’ in the UK, many activities have opened up again. But with the rise of COVID-19 variants, the return to normal life comes with uncertainty. This combination could make you uneasy as you start up your social life again. You may not have the enthusiasm you once did for social activities. After living with restrictions for so long, going back to an open social life may be out of your comfort zone.
You aren’t alone. So many people are feeling reopening anxiety right now. Here we’ll take a look at what reopening anxiety is, how it may look and feel, and what you can do about it.
What does ‘reopening anxiety’ mean?
Many people have mixed emotions right now. Reopening anxiety is a genuine concern, and it’s taken on new meaning with the COVID-19 variants emerging.
So what does reopening anxiety mean? It’s the emotion you sense when you feel torn between two worlds, facing a choice between safety and freedom. The stress from the pandemic has amplified feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Everyone’s perception of safety has been skewed, making it difficult to feel like being out is OK. It’s no wonder people are anxious as they go from lockdowns to an open society.
What reopening anxiety may feel and look like
After months of living with restrictions, it can be hard to switch gears. And since the pandemic may accelerate again, the adjustment period may not be over. Here’s more of what you may experience as you take your first steps out.
Feeling hesitant in situations with low risk
- Wearing masks and avoiding others in open outdoor spaces
- Feeling anxious even if cases are low in your area, vaccination rates are good, and people are masking and distancing
- Taking many precautions but still feeling worried and unsafe
- Choosing to keep self-imposed restrictions because you feel more in control
Staying isolated after restrictions are lifted
- Hesitating to accept a social invitation
- Avoid social contact with people who might invite you out
- Talking yourself out of an event you’d enjoy, even if conditions appear safe
Feeling physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety
- Shallow breathing and increased heart rate
- Feeling flushed or sweating a lot
- Feeling tense or jittery
- Being distractible, hypervigilant, or forgetful
- Increased fear, nervousness, and doubt
- Heightened sense of danger
- Increased isolation, even with a low risk of exposure to the virus
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Habits to consider changing as the world reopens
We’ve all developed habits to get us through the pandemic. Some have been helpful, and others may have become a burden. If you recognize any of these behaviours in your life, consider what they mean to you and what you may want to change.
Masks are one of many tools we’ve been using as protection through the pandemic. They’re helpful but not always necessary. You may consider whether you’re wearing your mask because the situation calls for it or because it brings you comfort. Masks may still be required in the near future. But it’s also OK to look for safe situations where you could go without one.
Isolation is one of the most widely used protective measures during the pandemic. But safety has come at an emotional and social cost. You may be so used to avoiding others that you’ve stopped looking for social opportunities. If the conditions are safer in your area, you may be isolating yourself simply out of habit rather than need.
Being hypervigilant about news
When the virus first began to spread, uncertainty was high. People clamoured for information and guidance on how to stay safe. The news became an overwhelming stream of alarming information. If you’ve kept your habit of checking the COVID-19 headlines for the past year, you may be feeding your feelings of anxiety and stress.
Seeing going out as riskier than staying home
For many months, staying home has been linked with being healthy. But as we’ve learned, staying isolated and sheltered has its risks, too. Many people pushed aside a good quality of life in exchange for physical safety. At some point, you may need to rebalance your viewpoint on the risk. Consider how much weight you give your emotions as compared to the facts.
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Tips for coping with reopening anxiety
So how do you bridge the gap between pandemic isolation and a more open world? Start by being kind to yourself. From this compassionate mindset, you can face your reopening anxiety. It takes time to adapt, so use these tips to progress at your own pace.
Acknowledge your anxiety as normal
Living through a pandemic is a stressful experience. It’s completely normal to feel disoriented and anxious as you adjust to each change. Doing safe activities you haven’t done in a long time can feel strange at first. It can take some practice before you feel comfortable again.
Learn where your anxiety comes from
Is a situation truly unsafe, or does it feel unfamiliar? You may have a similar reaction to both situations despite their differences. Spend time reflecting on the source of your anxiety so you can address your concern accurately.
Ease into any changes you make
There’s no need to rush things as you start stepping out more. Start by taking your mask off for a few minutes in open spaces without crowds. Go to public places during off-hours when crowds are less likely. Start small and back off if you don’t feel comfortable.
Make decisions with the best data you can
Consider making social decisions based on information you can easily track, like vaccination and infection rates in your local area. Acknowledge your emotions, but use logic and reliable information as your guide.
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Reopening anxiety – Start with self-compassion
We’ve all been through an enormously challenging time with the pandemic, and the story isn’t over yet. It’s understandable to feel some anxiety as society opens up. Above all, give yourself grace as you adjust. If you can’t work through your emotions on your own, consider reaching out to a counsellor for support.