When Re-Entry Anxiety is Getting to You

If you’ve been feeling more jittery about re-engaging after the pandemic, you’re not alone. There’s actually a “fancy psychological term” that has been circulating to describe the feeling:

Re-entry anxiety.

Essentially, it’s the notion that many of us are feeling nervous about getting back to the way things used to be. What used to be a casual Friday night dinner can now feel like an expedition and an average club meeting can now seem like more of an ordeal than an ordinary occurrence. 

Sound familiar?

As a therapist, I’ve been expecting this honestly. Here’s why.

Anxiety is rooted in avoidance. With anything that scares us, we tend to have a reaction of withdrawal. There are so many examples where this plays out.

  • Wanting to get out of class so that you don’t have to give that presentation
  • Wanting to ghost on that date because it’s too awkward to tell them you’re not interested
  • Avoiding driving before traffic makes you nervous

Whatever it looks like for you (as anxiety can manifest in so many different ways), we’re often looking for the escape hatch when we feel afraid.

And guess what?

This year has been the ultimate avoidance exercise. And for good reason, but all the same, we’ve had ample opportunity to not only avoid COVID, but also all the other things that scare us (and stretch us to grow).

We’ve had the perfect excuse to not go after that internship, ask that person out, make a new friend, or face a fear. 

And temporarily, that feels SO good. 

Avoidance is like a warm blanket that unfortunately is a little too weighted. It gets heavier and heavier until we feel like we can’t get up and face what we’re afraid of anymore. 

It’s just like if you’ve been exercising every day and stop going to the gym for a year. Your muscles get weak.

Right now, our social muscles aren’t as strong as they used to be and as a result, many of us are feeling extra anxious.

There’s good news, though.

Anxiety works off of habituation. The more we do something, the less afraid we feel and the easier it becomes. 

Like a wave rising and falling, the waves get smaller and smaller each time that we engage in facing our fears.

So while that first presentation may have your knees buckling, you’ll find that over time, the more you do something, the easier it is to face.

How do we do this, then?

We don’t let the anxiety win. The anxiety may be telling you:

“You really don’t need to make new friends.”

“You don’t really need a job. You’re better off waiting this one out.”

“Just wait and see what happens.”

And sometimes you do need a break. Self-care and anxiety can be hard to differentiate at times.

But the key is that you show up for your life. That you face your fears because you want to experience what matters to you.

Know what you value and go for it. Life is too short to let anxiety hold you back.