10 Strategies for Coping with Re-Engagement Stress 

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious about our state’s reopening, you’re not alone. Re-entry anxiety is real. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America poll found that half of us – vaccinated or not — are stressed about the inevitable post-pandemic readjustment to some new normal. Anxiety is fueled by uncertainty, and uncertainties around what the “new normal” looks like are numerous.

Two categories of re-entry anxiety are common, COVID Support VT Counselor Nate Reit told participants in a recent virtual workshop on the topic. “There’s anxiety about Covid transmission, and there’s anxiety about re-engaging in social interactions,” Reit says. “A lot of people are feeling anxious right now, and it’s totally normal.”

Checking In with Yourself 

Understanding and awareness are key to getting a grip on how re-entry anxiety may be affecting you, and what you can do about it. Checking in with yourself periodically to ask “how am I doing?” is a great starting point. Be gentle on yourself.

“Reflecting on how the pandemic has impacted you can be difficult,” Reit advised. “It may bring up some unexpected or difficult emotions, so be sure to do whatever you need to take care of yourself.”

As an example, Reit led participants in a brief meditative exercise to engender a sense of calm and ease, and to help lower stress hormones. He began with a series of guided breaths. “Inhale through the nose for a count of five, exhale through the mouth,” he intoned. Then he invited attendees to identify four different sounds in the room around them, just noticing them. Next, he said, notice sounds outside the room, hearing each as it arises, paying attention to its qualities. 

“Care for yourself like you care for others. Think of it like applying oxygen to yourself first, as they instruct you on airplanes. Tend to your own well-being, and you’ll be better positioned to help those you love.”

~ Nate Reit, COVID Support VT Workshop Facilitator

10 Ways to Manage Re-Entry Stress

In the workshop, Reit outlined 10 specific strategies we can all use in managing re-entry stress.

  1. Start gradually. Begin with small gatherings outside for a short period of time. Ask yourself “what am I comfortable with?” Be (respectfully) communicative about what you are okay with and what you are not.
  2. Foster optimism. Distracting the mind from what you may be worrying about can be a useful strategy. Instead, focus on what you’d LIKE to do. Think of ways you can re-engage that will make you happy and feel comfortable to you.
  3. Develop self-care and mindfulness. Tend to the basics, including daily exercise or movement of some sort; get adequate sleep, eat a healthy balanced diet, take part in enjoyable activities, and socialize with people you like.
  4. Educate yourself on the facts. Be informed, but don’t overload yourself with news. Be mindful of where information comes from. Find valid, credible sources to ensure you’re accessing reliable facts. 
  5. Set boundaries. Get in touch with your personal comfort level and communicate it openly, early and often to others. That way, if someone isn’t on the same page as you are, you’ll know in advance and you can figure out how to handle it. 
  6. Limit social media. Facebook is not necessarily your friend in a pandemic. In fact, social media in general is a prime source of misinformation. Use it sparingly to stay socially connected, and find healthy alternatives to social-media screen time.
  7. Don’t avoid re-entry. Avoidance is not a feasible strategy for the long term. Take steps that make sense to you, even if they’re baby steps. You can think of re-emergence as learning to walk again. Take it slow, and choose your steps wisely.
  8. Know your rights. If you’re concerned about safety issues at your workplace or other places, educate yourself about the state rules and requirements employers must meet. Talk with your employer about what your options are. Seek legal advice if necessary.
  9. Seek help. Be willing to ask for help. Whether it’s a friend, mentor, spiritual or faith minister, or a mental-health professional, reach out. Remember that reaching out is important and normal.
  10. Check in. Continue to check in with yourself and your loved ones as you transition into the new normal. Stay vigilant about self-care. Pay attention to how your body responds to stress. Find strategies to improve your resilience.

“Being able to ask for help when we need help is an important part of life in general. It’s especially important now, as we navigate the pandemic wind-down.”

~ Nate Reit, COVID Support VT Workshop Facilitator

Learn More and Find Resources

Register for our bi-weekly support and discussion group focused on managing re-entry stress.

Read more in our Guest Blog from a COVID Support VT counselor about re-entry anxiety and how to cope with it.

Find re-entry wisdom from COVID Support VT Clinical Supervisor Cath Burns in our blog, Re-entry Rises as Restrictions Lift.

Read Why the pandemic’s end spurs anxiety, from the American Psychological Association, for a conversation about re-entry anxiety with Clinical Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D. 

Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health

Need to Talk?

Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.

In Crisis? 

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support. 

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org.

One-click translation to 100 languages of most everything on the COVIDSupportVT.org website, plus Multilingual Resources.

Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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