As curves flatten, small business and schools re-open slowly, many internationals can hope to return to more normal daily routines. However, one thing for sure that has been highlighted during this pandemic is mental health, and for people who struggle with various forms of anxiety, the thought of re-engaging may result in feelings of dread.
Text: Lyndsay Jensen
As infection levels fall and the vaccine starts to roll out, small businesses and schools are slowly re-opening, many internationals can hope to return to more normal daily routines. However, one thing for sure that has been highlighted during this pandemic is mental health, and for people who struggle with various forms of anxiety, the thought of re-engaging may result in feelings of dread.
For people with anxiety, the lockdown experience came as a bit of a relief. The pressure to be out of the house and socialising was removed, and some people with elevated anxiety were relieved to have social avoidance. I wanted to highlight this as more and more people I know have been opening up online and sharing their experiences. So how do you cope with a return to the upcoming new normal in this situation?
Here are some guidelines and principles to follow as you gradually return to your daily routine:
Listen to public health guidelines and not your anxiety.
Although safety is rarely a guarantee, if your local public health officials have provided the guidelines, use them and not your internal feelings of fear of anxiety to tell you what you can and cannot do.
Reasons to re-engage.
Doing things that you have not done in a while will likely be anxiety-provoking and challenging at times. Before you start or do something you know might be particularly difficult, it would be a good idea to remind yourself of what can be gained by doing what the anxious part of you is saying could be risky.
These could be for example:
Being a model of bravery for your children
Being outside together as a family to build positive memories
Gradually work up to more challenging situations.
Give yourself a chance to build on your success by gradually increasing the difficulty level. An example of this would be going to the grocery store closer to busy times. Although it may be time-consuming, it may help you gather data to refute the anxiety-provoking predictions regarding the danger level of being out of the house.
Check yourself after doing something that makes you feel anxious.
After you finish doing something that scares you, compare what actually happened to what you feared could happen. For example, if you make a prediction that going outside and walking in the street, passing others will make you sick, compare it to what actually happened but recognise that it might take up to a couple of days to get an answer. In other situations, you may be able to do a debrief immediately after completing a scary activity. For example, if you go outside with a mask on and make a prediction that people will point and stare at you for wearing a mask, you will immediately see this is not the case, as everyone is wearing a mask. Over time you will collect several experiences that may demonstrate that you are overestimating the threat/danger, which may help the following situations to not seem so scary.
Pat yourself on the back for your hard work.
Facing fear is hard work. It does not matter if others don’t share your fear. We all have things that scare us, and we should be our own gage because of this. If you are working hard to overcome your fear, you deserve to congratulate yourself. Speed is not important. Also, don’t fall into the trap of congratulating yourself for a positive outcome. If you focus on the effort you are putting in and follow the above guidelines, trust that the outcome you want will come. It may not be as quick as you would like, but it will come. The work of re-entering the world after an unprecedented extended lockdown is hard work. If you are trying to overcome your fears, you deserve to congratulate yourself for your hard work!
Mental health is a real problem worldwide, and if you feel you are experiencing mental health issues, always remember to reach out to a professional. You can contact your GP in Denmark, or in an emergency, reach out to the Anxiety Disorders helpline on 1813 (press 1 for information in English); they are on call 24 hours a day.