Return to new normal can bring “re-entry fear” and anxiety
People have been talking to us about the feelings related to the easing of lockdown restrictions, some feel hopeful and excited whilst others stressed and nervous. A number of articles have been written recently talking about “Re-entry Fear / Anxiety”.
Whilst this term sounds like something only astronauts returning to Earth after years away should experience, I think it can be helpful in highlighting that it is normal for many people to be finding the easing of restrictions difficult.
While headlines keep talking about a return to “normal” it is apparent the experience for many people is that lockdowns and restrictions have become “normal” and so a return to the old “normal” feels anything but “normal”. For example, one anonymous tweet from a sufferer of anxiety wrote:
“I have embraced and gotten used to this new lifestyle of avoidance that I can’t fathom going back to how it was. I have every intention of continuing to isolate myself”. (Hopefully they are not spending all their life on twitter to the avoidance of all else).
Of course many people, key workers and those who have needed to continue commuting to work, those previously leading solitary lifestyles, existing home workers etc may have experienced a continuing sense of rhythm about their lives.
For very many others, those with workplaces closed, made redundant, shielders, the recently bereaved or new parents and those whose homes, usually silent during the day have suddenly become repurposed as office and school spaces, the relaxation of restrictions will again represent substantial change.
We all know that change is inevitable, life presents change to us every day and a significant amount of our time is spent thinking about change, however the balance of our focus and energy is disturbed when we experience lots of change. It is also often the case that our experience of a change that we have actively chosen is quite different from one that we are confronted with and finally, and most importantly what “change” means to us is always deeply personal.
What I mean by that is that we often find ourselves surprised by how change affects or doesn’t affect us and those around us. Things that we expect to feel devastating actually don’t, whilst things that we hadn’t really thought of as important can knock us for six. We are presented with mysteries for example: “why did I cry at that scene in the film the other night”, “why didn’t I feel anything when I received that bad news?”, “why are those people rushing out to buy toilet rolls?”, “why won’t they have the vaccine?” etc etc.
So much has changed over the last year with everything from education, work, entertainment and retail moving onto digital platforms, that in reality there is no return to things just as they were and also, I mentioned earlier, peoples experiences over the last year have varied hugely. Some people have flourished, others felt relatively unaffected whist others had really terrible times and I guess there is a possibility that this may be something that can unite or be a new source for division in society.
I wanted to write this because I suspect your view will also be quite reflective of how positive or negative you are feeling right now? So is there anything we should be doing? I recommend paying close attention to how you think and feel about the changes and ask yourself how these are influencing the choices you are making and your behaviour.
What do you notice about yourself in comparison to how you have been in the past? What is your behaviour in relation to the restrictions and other people? What evidence or basis of fact underlies your decisions? And importantly think about your patterns of behaviour around change – are you typically someone who is first in line for something new or do you like to take your time and see how things go before taking action? Does change bring energy or exhaustion and how do you look after yourself?
It is natural to feel a whole range of positive and / or negative emotions when faced with change and they can usefully help guide you in making skilful decisions. For example, if you feel really excited about being able to meet up with others then you might consider exercising some caution around making too many plans, whereas if you feel nervous about meeting up with people you might decide to make fewer arrangements than you did in the past.
You may well find it useful to talk to other people about how you are feeling and I suggest that they too will probably appreciate the chance to talk as much as you do – even if their feelings are the complete opposite. Finally, if you are struggling do reach out – our door is always open.
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach
UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych
Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.
Read more blogs by Nicholas Rose
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