Reopening anxiety

Reopening Anxiety: 4 Ideas for Reframing Lingering Coronavirus Fear

Originally published on May 30, 2021

The World Starts to Return to Normal, and That Means … Reopening Anxiety

Just last night, my home city (Boston) removed all social distancing restrictions. That’s right — all of them. Now, we no longer need to wear a mask in public or even at the bar; we’re free to mingle with anyone we so choose. It’s been a long time in the making.

For some, the rolling back of these restrictions is a godsend, a long-awaited return to a normal and relatively carefree life. For others, getting rid of all the same protections that kept us safe during the pandemic is a scary proposition.

If you find yourself in that latter camp, and if you don’t know what to do about your “reopening anxiety,” fear not — I’m here to bring you four simple ideas that will help you manage this uncertain time a bit more successfully.

The original idea for this post grew out of a Clubhouse discussion on which I was an admin last month. The host of that discussion, and I, invited a woman up to the stage who asked, “As the world reopens, what am I supposed to do with all the fears I still have about Corona? And do you have any practices I can put in place to mitigate them?” Those practices, and some related thoughts, are what we’ll discuss here. To make things simple, I’ve put them in a numbered-list-like format below:

#1: Be Patient with Yourself and Your Reopening Anxiety

In times like these, it’s important to remember that not all change happens overnight. That includes the disappearance of your reopening anxiety.

We just spent fifteen months learning, planning, and looking out for unsafe social situations and behaviors. We trained our brains to be wary of anything that could put us, or someone we love, at risk of getting infected. Just as that training took more than a day to complete, ridding ourselves of it will as well. And that’s okay.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with being hesitant to jump right back into society as we lift our Corona restrictions. If you have some reopening anxiety, it’s just a sign that you programmed your subconscious quite well during the pandemic.

Regardless of how much you’re telling yourself it’s okay to go to a crowded, maskless event, if it still feels unsafe, that’s your subconscious mind talking. Eventually, you’ll retrain it to see safety in such events once more. You may just need to be a little patient with it — and yourself — in the meantime.

#2: Only Do What You are Comfortable with, Socially

For several of my current coaching clients, there’s a bit of an all-or-nothing feeling when it comes to stepping back out into the world. Either they’re out at the nightclubs and all the other social outings, or they’re still locked up in their houses. Though I totally understand and empathize with such an outlook, it doesn’t leave room for nuance.

In reality, all sorts of social situations exist on the spectrum between these two extremes. For example, we could go to the park, grab dinner with a friend, or finally head back to the library. But just because we leave our house one time, that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to do anything and everything under the sun. Nor should we.

What we should actually do is whatever we’re most comfortable with. If that only means going for a maskless walk, that’s more than okay. Just like when we hit the pool, we can dip our toes in the water slowly, see how it feels, and decide if we want to wade deeper or not. We don’t have to dive in headfirst if we don’t want to.

As we head back to our first social outings, we’ll be able to suss out our situations and see how our subconscious minds and bodies feel. We should use these feelings to guide our next moves. If we feel safe and secure, let’s keep going. If not, we can hang back instead.

These are unprecedented times for us. Remember to go at your own pace and only do what you’re comfortable with, socially. Doing the opposite will more than likely cause your reopening anxiety to flare up, and we don’t want that happening.

#3: If It Helps, Reconnect to the Statistics

Many of us have spent a lot of time watching Coronavirus-related broadcasts over the last fifteen months, so, for some of us, this specific bullet point might not sound too appealing. They’ve brought us tons of fear-inducing statistics since last March, so why would we ever want to revisit them?

Well, for starters, COVID-related stats in the US have actually moved, mightily, in the right direction as of late. That’s the main reason for these country-wide reopenings in the first place. Cases are way down (about 12,000 new cases today versus 300,000 at the peak), as are hospitalizations and deaths.

That’s not to say all the numbers have dropped to zero, nor that they can’t tick back up in coming weeks, just that we’ve come a long way since the darkest days of the pandemic.

As we reconnect to these new statistics, we give our subconscious minds something to feel better about. These more positive numbers appease our anxious brains by showing them that how they feel doesn’t necessarily equal today’s reality.

Of course, reconnecting to the news and its statistics can be triggering for some. That’s why I say to consider this bullet point only if it helps. If you already know it won’t, feel free to put your focus on the ones here that provide more value for you — whatever helps you get out of the house, in some form, during this new and bizarre time.

#4: Remember, This is Not the World of March 2020

This final thought is closely related to the previous one, but instead of having you go and look for the latest Coronavirus stats, I’ll provide you a few insights that I think will eventually help get you out in public once more.

According to Google’s COVID-19 dashboard, 41% of Americans are fully vaccinated as of today. Additionally, more than 50% of Americans have had at least one dose of one of the COVID vaccines. You may even be one of those people, which grants you some serious immunity, and thus, some much-deserved peace of mind.

On top of those relief-providing stats, we should also remember that many other Americans have already fought off the virus. Though I’m not a scientist or virologist, nor do I claim to be, that means there are countless folks out there who have some natural level of immunity from the virus in the form of antibodies.

When we add all those facts together, we get a country and population that doesn’t spread the disease in a fashion anywhere near that of early 2020. That’s not to say no one can get the virus these days — far from it — just that not every single person on the street is a potential transmitter anymore. That alone should make us feel safer, even if it doesn’t necessarily get us out to the nightclubs next weekend.

Wishing You Well, Whenever You Decide to Get Out of the House

It goes without saying that these are strange and uncertain times. As you ponder the idea of stepping back out into the world, be easy on yourself and remember that if you don’t feel like it just yet, that’s okay. That feeling will return in time, as more and more people show us that they’ve returned to normal life themselves — safely.

Whenever you do decide to move your social habits back toward something resembling normalcy, I wish you well. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to see each other and enjoy the things we once took for granted. Let’s cherish those moments, as we now realize they actually could be taken from us overnight. And, most importantly, let’s do so safely and without nearly as much reopening anxiety as we had at the peak of the pandemic.

Thanks for Reading. Want to Learn Some More Mental Health Insights?

Then check out my first book (on overcoming anxiety) or some of my other recent articles. Here are a couple I recommend:

What the Hype Cycle Shows Us About Life’s Challenges and Mental Health

The Ebbs and Flows In Life: Why We Must Understand Them and How They Can Affect Our Mental Health

**Image designed and owned by Brian Sachetta ©2021

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