Managing Re-Entry Anxiety and Stress

Mask, travel, and vaccination restrictions are lifting, leading to a mix of emotions and uncertainty for some. You may be happy to see some restrictions lift and yet, think it is too soon for others. "Re-entry anxiety"(Siegler, 2021) is considered to be an adjustment related manifestation which suggests that it will take time to adapt to the change, manage your feelings, and connect with others again. The source of re-entry anxiety includes worries about the increased risk of infection, changing social pressure and expectations, building a new routine, and increasing uncertainty about how to progress forward. If you are struggling to adjust, it is important to acknowledge your emotions, monitor your behaviours, and go at your own pace. 4 ways to reduce re-entry anxiety and transition to your new normal: Challenging your thinking It is normal to feel worried from time to time, but chronically worrying can often be unhelpful if we don't face the core of the worry. Learning to identify our self-talk is essential as our perspective and our mindset play an important role in our mood, bodily sensations, and our behaviour on a daily basis. Take the time to write down your thoughts and identify how accurate or helpful they are. Are your thoughts predicting the future, or assuming the worst might happen? Taking time to assess the value and the impact of our self-talk can help us to process it and see things from a new, more balanced, perspective. Try to focus on the present moment and the things within your control, including things you can do to cope, keep yourself safe, and manage your emotions. Further, it is helpful to focus on the positives or opportunities when faced with adversity, such as recognizing that you've coped with this before and that you now have the chance to strengthen your sense of resiliency further. Remember, the irony with adversity is that it is the very experience of surmounting challenges that create our resilience.

Improving your behaviour Taking care of your overall wellbeing can help you to cope with change and uncertainty, and reduce the impact of stress and symptoms of re-entry anxiety. Ensuring that you are getting enough quality sleep, healthy food, and exercise is the foundation of improved mood, motivation, and wellbeing. Even if things get busy, strive to build in regular, intentional, activities of self-care, relaxation, and decompression, and acknowledge your accomplishments daily. Even if your schedule of activities has now changed, commit to finding a way to build even the smallest routine into one part of your day, whether that is being consistent in your sleep, eating, work, or self-care routine. Building familiarity and expectation into one aspect of your day can help to manage uncertainty. Facing social pressure and expectations Remember that the experience of the pandemic and restrictions lifting is different for everyone. For you, it may not be helpful to compare or have the same expectations of others that you do for yourself. The way you interact in the coming months will still look different than before the pandemic. Before engaging in social events, have an honest conversation with friends and family about what feels comfortable for you to ensure there are no surprises or unintended conflict. Being aware of everyone's worries and expectations can help to ensure you are all respectful of one another and on the same page. Being prepared can help you to feel more comfortable and ready to set personal boundaries if others are pressuring you to change your behaviour. Reconnecting socially may feel uncomfortable at first, especially with those whose expectations are different than yours, but pace yourself and try not to avoid it entirely. Avoiding things that make us uncomfortable can feel easier, but in fact, can make us feel more anxious and challenged to face our fears. Exposure to your fear allows you to accurately evaluate the risk and reduce the overall symptoms of anxiety. Managing your return to work As more employees are returning back to the workplace, remember that what might feel to you like "steps in the right direction", may bring an enormous amount of stress and anxiety for others. Having self-compassion and respect for the choices of others can go a long way in reducing conflict and stress. This includes the leadership team that is responsible for making difficult decisions in an uncertain and changing situation. If you are feeling nervous about returning to the workplace, speak with a coworker or manager that you trust. They may be able to help you to manage your emotions, feel connected, and offer solutions to ease your worries. Flexible working hours, a gradual return to the workplace setting, or a hybrid work model may be options to gradually build up to a full-time return to the workplace.

It is normal if you are still unsure of how to keep yourself and others safe, and how you can progress safely forward. Understanding your workplace policies and following health guidelines can help you to feel more confident and comfortable in your decisions. If you are experiencing stress or difficulty navigating this transition, the EAP can help you find the support you need to manage your emotions and your re-entry experience.

Source: Siegler, D. (2021, July 27). Reentry Anxiety. Psychiatric Times. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/reentry-anxiety

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