Re-entry anxiety

You might have thought this piece was going to be all about the return to Earth after a flight to the Moon. Well, it’s not. It’s about our personal return to a ‘new normality’ after a journey, possibly even more hazardous, that has taken us the best part of a year!

As we now adapt in response to the easing of restrictions, we can expect a range of different, even conflicting, emotions and a new kind of anxiety, too.  This feeling of uncertainty has been called by some experts, re-entry anxiety, the normal response to a very unusual situation.

After the months of lockdown, restrictions, and physical distancing that we’ve lived through we now need to adapt to yet another different way of life. This ‘new normality’ will not be the same as it was earlier this year, or even last year! And we’ll still need to be vigilant and avoid close physical contact for a long while……

Re-entry means good news and bad news. It’sgood to resume travel and connection and have time with friends and family, but the bad news is that the aftermath of the coronavirus brings a new and different way of life for us all, including  older folk and especially those who live alone, and we are likely to experience a new raft of feelings related to ‘where we are at’ in our life’s journey.

This re-entry anxiety can be felt by all of us as we emerge from the period of seclusion; even though it did provide, for many of us, a sense of comfort, safety and a degree of control over our exposure risk.  Now, as we move into this ‘new normal’, we are still confronted with many uncertainties and unknowns. 

Despite the welcomed renewal of social connection and the resumption of some of our previous activities, we will be constantly reminded of the continuing coronavirus threat when we use our face-masks and face the daily news coverage in newspapers and TV. Our earlier, 2019, familiar life pattern is now drastically, and probably forever, different. Our sense of personal safety may well feel compromised and at risk of this pernicious influence for some time yet. 

Certainly, we may have mixed emotions when trying to adapt this, so-called new normality.  On the one hand, we may enjoy the longed-for social re-connection, the re-engagement with old hobbies and just ‘going out’. But we will probably still worry about whether sufficient safety precautions are in place, or whether others are taking appropriate precautions. 

To help manage any re-entry anxiety, it will be helpful to recognise that whatever feelings we are experiencing, they are probably normal and valid and can even be beneficial.  A degree of some anxiety can help maintain a level of vigilance; and some excitement and relief can help us reconnect and re-engage with others.  Our response may only be problematic if we experience too much negative response which stops us from moving forward, or too much positivity which can make us too complacent as we try to reach our old balance!

Maybe the following points will be helpful.

Ideas to help manage re-entry anxiety……

  • Acknowledge and accept our different emotions.  We can feel many things at the same time!
  • Be kind to yourself: just do the best you can in these new and changing times.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.  We all have different circumstances and coping styles.
  • Take your time, pace yourself, there’s no hurry!  Take first, small, comfortable steps into the rest of your life….our ‘new world’.
  • Go forward into any new situations with a trusted friend, a neighbour, or a family member if you can. Talk and discuss the changes that affect you with any kindred spirit you can find!
  • Engage in activities that are meaningful. Renew your hobby, club, or pursuit.
  • Check your thinking: Do you have a lot of “what about” thinking? Worrying about things beyond our control, like “what if we get a third wave?”.   
  • Stop using a lot of absolute terms, like: “everybody”, “always”, “never”. Find the middle ground rather than the black or white thinking that something is either good or bad, like “this will never end”.
  • Focus on the present moment with techniques like “mindfulness” activities.  Worrying about the future just increases anxiety.  Here and now is the moment that counts!
  • If you are a “worrier”, acknowledge it, and schedule your worry time! Set aside a part of the day where you can reflect on, perhaps write down, your concerns.  Consider some possible scenarios and how you might cope with, or plan for, those that are within your control. 
  • As well as a healthy diet, keep mobile (with a mask!), and as active as you can manage.
  • Continue to focus on what is in your control: your thoughts, safe hygiene practices, staying connected, and set some objectives to do, to make, to read, to make contacts.
  • Plan ahead for situations where you may feel uncomfortable and may need an exit strategy.
  • Focus on the positive events around you. Set personal goals, identify two or three things a day you are grateful for. Stop and meditate or pray, with gratitude and hope.

If, despite all the above strategies, you can’t deal with any of them and you are still feeling overwhelmed and it’s affecting your day to day functioning, it will be time for you to reach out for some help. Speak with your doctor or a health care professional or a trusted friend; you could even send me a note, I’ve felt like that, too.

Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Tanja for her research and her summary of the work of many organisations, worldwide, who have written on this topic. The references are many, and I am happy to provide links to any interested reader. For information on Aged Care, I acknowledge the resources at