Dear Dr. Amy: I have been home all year like a lot of other people. I am so nervous to go back to work in person, and to socialize and participate in events and gatherings. I was at one time an active member of my community in my neighborhood. I yearn to be back to normal, but I am feeling anxious and nervous. ~ Steve in Zanesville, Ohio
You are not alone! A recent report from the American Psychological Association says a significant number of Americans are feeling anxious and just as worried about getting back out into the world. Our normal was halted inside of a week with shelter-in-place orders. No one could have ever predicted it would last this long or anticipated the magnitude of the deaths and illness, as well as the racial, political and societal events that followed.
Will we be returning to normalcy or will it be a new normal? The answer is likely somewhere in the middle. As Dr. Gregory Poland from Mayo Clinic said recently in a MarketWatch article, “There is no nice, neat bow to tie this up.” Since there will be no summer-blockbuster movie ending to this, here are some ideas for re-entry to consider:
1. Read up on your state’s current re-entry guidelines and follow them as best you can. Remember, the CDC says if both parties are fully vaccinated, masks do not need to be worn outside when together.
2. Remember that we are pretty resilient and if this year has taught us anything, we now know we can do hard things. Research shows us that the capacity for resilience, for bouncing back even when faced with ongoing challenges, is something we can improve upon. Much of resiliency training emphasizes four main areas: emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual resilience. There are many components to resiliency training but cognitive behavioral therapy, learning something new, keeping up a regular exercise habit, and practicing gratitude are all approaches that help build resiliency. When we improve resiliency, we help with overall quality of life, as well as with lowering stress and anxiety.
3. If you are feeling especially anxious after this long year and your anxiety is further heightened during this re-entry time, consider addressing the underlying cause of your anxiety, and bring in habits and behaviors that help raise your threshold for feeling anxious and help you dissipate the worry. You can explore the many gentle and effective approaches that licensed naturopathic doctors have in their full toolbox of care for the treatment of anxiety.
4. Go slowly. Think about what you most miss and make a plan. One thing this last year took from us was the ability to make plans. Psychologically, it makes sense, and studies support the idea that, we all do better when we have positive things to look forward to. You might call that friend whose company you enjoy and make a date for a walk in the park, as time in nature helps soothe our jangled nerves. Or maybe consider a picnic or outdoor seating at a restaurant for a shared meal together. Or visit your local library or maybe an outdoor concert? If you’re feeling like you’re ready, plan a short trip or overnight stay this summer.
5. The key is to start small and take baby steps. Be as communicative as possible by informing your loved ones about what you will need to feel safe. Be direct and clear and non-judgmental. Appreciate that every person has different needs and will approach this time differently. Patience and understanding are key.
6. For some people, this year has been less of a challenge based on their temperament and personality. All the alone time with fewer family and social commitments may have felt like a relief. If that’s been your experience, even if for just a little while before social isolation mounted, I encourage you to create those islands of quiet and solitude, and continue to enjoy them, even as we move toward more societal normalcy. This pandemic, with all its hardship and tragedy, might have been just the thing to help you learn something new about yourself, which can hopefully inform the way you envision and create the life you want to live going forward.
It’s been a long, strange, stressful year, we’re all ready for the next phase. Taking steps to reduce anxiety and build resilience are worthwhile and can help with the re-entry blues. Steve, good luck over these next months, I hope you find some sweet spots to enjoy the people, places and activities you remember and miss.
Do you have a question for Dr. Amy? Send your naturopathic medical questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: we cannot reply to any medical questions about a personal diagnosis or treatment.
This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
Amy Rothenberg ND, DHANP is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg’s writing can be found on NaturalMed.org, Better Nutrition’s Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, andThe Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.