Are you suffering from re-entry syndrome? How to cope with post-COVID anxiety
Information and support to help you cope with anxiety brought on the post-pandemic return to 'normal'.
The heights of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated periods of lockdown were extremely difficult for many people. From health concerns to money worries and loneliness, a range of issues placed pressures upon our mental wellbeing.
Whilst COVID hasn't gone away, many of the worst effects of the pandemic have passed. Countries around the world have lifted their most-extreme social-distancing restrictions and life has been going back to 'normal'.
For some, this has been a huge relief and has brought a welcome return to the office-working, socialising and travel that was so heavily restricted. However, for others, this return may bring negative impacts of its own.
For people with pre-existing anxiety, especially social anxiety, the complete lifting of social restrictions may exacerbate concerns they felt better-able to manage during isolation.
And these effects can extend to people who hadn't experienced anxiety prior to the pandemic. Sometimes referred to as 're-entry syndrome', the anxiety that many people will feel as life readjusts to new routines is perfectly understandable. Here we provide some advice and outline some simple steps to help you cope.
Lockdown reduced daily life to a smaller, more-easily managed range of predictable routines and removed some of the pressures, such as travel or social situations, that can often be triggers for anxiety or panic attacks.
As you readjust to a life without lockdown, it’s important to take it one step at a time. Ease yourself back in, going at a pace that suits you and how you feel on each day and in each situation. Try not to entirely avoid the things you find difficult but also don’t feel pressured into accepting every social invite you receive or feel that life must immediately return to how it was pre-pandemic. Instead, start slowly, keep yourself in control as much as possible and take time to rest and recharge between stressful periods.
Anxiety is to be expected
Don’t beat yourself up about feeling anxious. It’s perfectly okay to feel overwhelmed, especially in situations you might not have regularly encountered for over two years and which you might even have found difficult pre-COVID.
Rather than fighting against the anxiety, accept the situation and how it makes you feel, treat yourself with compassion, breathe, be mindful, try to stay in the moment and don’t add unnecessary stress to an already stressful set of circumstances.
Try these simple, calming breathing exercises for stress, anxiety and panic, which only take a few minutes and can be done anywhere.
Returning to the office
If you are feeling anxious about returning to the office, try speaking to your manager and talking them through your concerns. They may be able to offer solutions to ease your anxiety, such as continued home working, working flexible hours or allowing you to gradually build up to a full-time return to the office.
If you are nervous about commuting by public transport, you might consider alternatives such as walking or cycling or, if you are able to work flexible hours, travelling at off-peak times when trains and buses will be less crowded. Remember that with many people choosing to continue working from home, public transport may be less busy than it was pre-pandemic.
Returning after having COVID
The length of time it takes to recover from COVID infection differs from person to person. Many people feel better within a few days or weeks and most will make a full recovery within 12 weeks. For some, however, the symptoms and after effects of infection can last much longer.
Some of the symptoms you can have after a COVID-19 infection include fatigue, shortness of breath, 'brain fog' and depression and anxiety - any of which could make your return to regular activities, including a return to work, particularly challenging.
If you feel that you are struggling with post-COVID symptoms then it's important to consult your GP or doctor if you haven't already done so. You should also make sure to communicate the details of your situation to your employer. In the UK, if you have been off work for more than seven days and your health still affects your fitness to work, you can obtain a fit note from your doctor or other health-care professional. The note provides advice to your employer about your health and your ability to work.
Your employer should also be willing and able to make modifications, known as reasonable adjustments, to how you work, to help you cope with a return. These can include a phased return, flexible hours and allowing for more-frequent or longer breaks.
As more of us are vaccinated, the dangers of COVID-19 might have reduced but they have not entirely abated, especially as new, more transmissible variants occur. This means that for some, worries about their physical health may be the greatest source of anxiety.
Make sure to follow the latest health advice for your country, such as this from the Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish governments. Ensuring to get vaccinated and boosted (when available) is one of the best ways to protect yourself from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, and basic measures such as mask-wearing and maintaining good hand hygiene can also continue to help prevent infection. If you’re concerned about returning to the office, speak to your manager or HR department to find out what safety measures will be in place and ask about the possibility of continued home working.
Specialist resources and information
Below you’ll find links to resources designed to help you cope as we adjust the ways in which we live and work.
- 11 tips to cope with anxiety about coming out of lockdown
- Where to get urgent help for mental health
- Breathing exercises for stress
- Anxiety - what is it and how to get support
- Your COVID recovery - returning to work
- Managing feelings about lockdown easing
- Get help now – information to help you understand and manage your situation when you need help
Rethink Mental Illness
- Six ways to manage post-lockdown anxiety
- Returning to the workplace after lockdown: how to handle anxiety
Mental Health Foundation
- From lockdown to relaxation of COVID rules: tips on looking after your mental health
- Anxiety - its causes and where to find support
- Simon’s story: living with social anxiety