Having Reopening Anxiety? How To Overcome It?

March 25, 2022

Having Reopening Anxiety? How To Overcome It?

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has impacted our mental health. However, as we begin the process of reopening up, many people are balancing the need to socialize and regain some kind of normalcy with the lingering dangers of being in crowded spaces and potentially risking exposure to the virus. Experts are calling this crossroads of emotions “re-entry anxiety.”

The “New Normal”

It sounds almost ironic that we are not comfortable with getting back to the “old normal”. But living a secluded lifestyle for almost two years has created new habits in all of us. For instance, we are so used to keeping safe distances that we will get anxious when we see larger crowds. Or we instinctively move away when someone near us coughs or sneezes. We can say that all of us want things to be normal yet are fearful of change.

Neuroscience research shows that our brains are wired to be resistant to change because the emotional brain – the amygdala – interprets change as a threat. Reversing back to the “old normal” can be perceived as particularly threatening and challenging, especially since the trajectory of the pandemic is still uncertain.

If this affects most of us, then one can imagine the challenge it poses to people with pre-existing anxiety issues. For them, the secluded lifestyle provided temporary relief in the form of avoidance and consequently reduced the triggers of their anxiety.

It’s Normal to Feel Scared

The news and social media paint a picture of people feeling pure joy and elation about Singapore’s reopening. But what if you have mixed emotions about re-entry? Is it normal to still feel scared?

The answer is “yes,” says Dayry Hulkow, a primary therapist. “After all we’ve seen in the news during the pandemic and experienced in real life, feeling scared, stressed, and anxious is 100% valid,” she explains. That said, Hulkow does stress the importance of working through these feelings and exploring ways of coping.

For some people, particularly those within vulnerable populations, continuing to stay home may be preferable for the time being. However, Hulkow points out that staying home solely out of fear may keep people from living life in general, whether outside or inside the home. “While it may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first to venture out, it is possible for most of us to safely return to some sort of “normal” within a reasonable time.”

How to Manage Re-Opening Anxiety

To help ease some of this fear and anxiety, the first thing experts recommend is that you only do what’s comfortable for you and go at your own pace.

“We have to think about this as a long-term strategy, over months or probably a year or so,” says Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. Take your time through the process and don’t let anyone make you feel like you have to be comfortable going back to normal right away.

Besides going at your own pace, a good place to start, says Gilliland, is to focus on the things you actually have control over, like your behaviour in relation to the virus, since it’s the best strategy in the face of uncertainty. This includes being factual and specific in your thoughts. Gilliland also added that since we have no idea who is infected and who isn’t, we still need to maintain social distance, wash our hands frequently, sanitize surfaces at home and work regularly, and be mindful of how much and how many articles and news stories we are watching and reading.

From here, we can continue to do things to maintain a strong immune system, like being physically active, getting seven or eight hours of sleep, and connecting with two or three people that know us well.

As for the need to socialize, Gilliland says we desperately need to get this back into our lives, but we need to be mindful of distance and touch. Start with a small circle of close friends and get together outside in a park, yard, or trail. Walk and talk and share about life, but be careful that it’s not all about this virus.

Also, be aware of the people you surround yourself with. Are there people you talk to that increase your anxiety or decrease your anxiety about this issue? “More is not always better when it comes to anxiety,” says Gilliland.






Open chat
Chat with us if you have any questions about our program.