We blink and life changes, so it’s no surprise that anxiety is on the rise now that many of us are getting back to doing the things we did before the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is there are ways to manage and reduce the worry.
Susan Fishman, a nationally certified counselor and therapist with Jewish Family & Career Services, works primarily with college students through “Be Well with Hillel,” a program funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Partnering with Hillels of Georgia, the program offers free counseling services to Jewish college students across the state. Re-entry anxiety, Fishman says, affects people of all ages and backgrounds.
“We all got a taste of re-entry as vaccines ramped up and restrictions were lifted, and now with the Delta variant, many are feeling the anxiety and uncertainty crop up again; while for some, it never left. The level and intensity of feelings are different for everyone, based on their own personal experiences.”
According to Fishman, there’s no right or wrong way to handle re-entry; some of us may need more time to adjust than others. But how do we get back out there without stressing over it? She has some suggestions.
Frame your mindset. The first thing is to give yourself permission to feel anxious. A certain amount of anxiety is good, as it helps us stay motivated and do the things we need to do to keep ourselves protected. It’s also important to remember that our brains are not used to the social isolation we’ve experienced, and acknowledge that it will take time to get back to where we were.
Communicate your needs. Decide what boundaries you want to have and what you’re comfortable with, and communicate that to others. It’s hard not to fall into the comparison trap, but don’t be embarrassed to tell folks that you’re more comfortable wearing a mask, or that you’re not quite ready for a large gathering. We all have different thresholds, and that’s ok.
Go at your own pace, and ease your way back in. Find the balance between what feels safe and what pushes you past the more irrational fears. Use techniques to relax. When you’re feeling stressed, mindfulness and relaxation techniques like visualization, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help by bringing us into the present moment. Meditation apps like Headspace and Insight Timer can also be useful tools for learning these skills.
Create stress-free rituals. In a time of uncertainty, rituals create a feeling of control, a feeling that something’s been done. For families, this could be weekly family dinners where everyone turns off their electronics and shares something good about their day. Muting the news, especially, can help bring down your stress levels. Do simple things to build positive moments. Organize your spice drawer. Wash the dog. Get out into nature. Whatever brings a sense of accomplishment and adds joy to your day.
Psychologist Rick Blue suggests that “regarding anxiety, all of us are unique in our personalities. A person needs to ask what do I need to do to bring joy into my life? What will help me deal with stress … read a book, go for a walk … whereas my self-talk is that today was a good day. I solved a puzzle, I enjoyed a movie, I called a friend. One person’s stressor is another person’s outlet. It’s all how you look at it. Ask: what do you need to do to make yourself feel positive?”
For those who feel stressed at work, Blue said, “Taking a break from work helps, but it only helps if the break is short and you are working on the specific reasons why you got stressed out. Self-esteem and confidence only come from being on the playing field of life. The longer the break, the more you lose your confidence and self-esteem. I found that many people, once they pass a certain point, they don’t want to go back. During the break, take time out for you, but you still have to face those issues sooner or later.”
Remember also that “everyone sees the world through their own filter,” says Blue. “Empathetic assertiveness is important, but delivery with tact and diplomacy are, too. If you’re a conflict avoider, it’s difficult; and if you are stressed over time, you break easier.”
According to Beth M. Seidel, a psychologist at the Behavioral Institute of Atlanta, “Refine what your expectations are — it will be different than before and that is ok. Limit how much time you are actually interacting with people. Start off with a minimal amount and work your way up to what you are comfortable with. And, perhaps, join people if they invite you (for example, for lunch), but meet them there and tell them you can’t stay very long. Tell your friends or family that you want to spend time with them and you enjoy their company, but you feel overwhelmed from time to time and just need to spend time together in smaller doses.”
- Robyn Spizman Gerson
- Business & Professionals
- Jewish Family & Career Services
- Rick Blue
- Beth M. Seidel
- Behavioral Institute of Atlanta
- Jewish Federation of Atlanta
- Hillels of Georgia
- Susan Fishman
- Be Well With Hillel
- Delta variant
- Jewish college students
- Re-entry anxiety
- Meditation apps
- Insight Timer
- stress-free rituals