As we emerge from a global pandemic, many among us are expressing anxiety and trepidation about life “returning to normal”. While the challenges of the pandemic were great and in many ways unprecedented, so too is the hurdle of coming back online after spending over a year in partial to total isolation and with no ability to gather or socialize. Likewise, people in recovery also need to develop an expansive toolkit of coping strategies to manage the challenges and awkwardness that can come with being sober in social settings.
It might seem like a false equivalency to compare the long and sometimes very arduous road of recovery to getting back to dining in restaurants, going to concerts, or visiting museums. But what if the strategies employed by those successfully navigating recovery could also be utilized by those struggling with re-entry anxiety? Of course, emerging from a global pandemic does not require the same level of urgency or commitment as does avoiding drugs, alcohol or harmful addictive behaviors, however both adjustments can be facilitated using a few powerful tools.
Here are three coping strategies employed by people in recovery that could also assist those grappling with life returning to normal:
1) OWN YOUR FEELINGS!
Folks struggling with anxiety are helped tremendously by the act of simply acknowledging their emotions. While it’s perfectly natural and expected that resuming pre-pandemic activities can instill fear and even panic, the first step towards shifting emotional gears can and often does begin with acceptance. Newcomers to recovery have to adjust to some very uncomfortable feelings as they venture back out into the world, and some post-pandemic adventurers will also have to acknowledge the same feelings. Practicing intentional, mindful and most importantly, judgment-free noticing of how and what is showing up for us emotionally can make all the difference.
2) CONCRETIZE YOUR COPING SKILLS!
As people with anxiety begin to re-engage in the new normal, getting clear and concrete about exactly what coping skills they have available to them can be extremely helpful in a pinch. Much like those in early recovery, folks struggling with re-entry can employ skills such as daily meditation, breathing techniques, journaling, time in nature and practicing good sleep hygiene. to reduce anxiety. It helps to practice different coping skills and create a list of coping strategies for a variety of situations. Finding it difficult to breathe at your first day back in the office? Try some relaxation breathwork or tapping. Feeling a sense of languishing or sadness? Journaling or time in nature may be helpful. Some will even need to develop “escape” plans, to be able to gracefully exit situations that become overwhelming. Also, practice makes perfect. Consider practicing mantras, breathing exercises or other techniques when you’re feeling calm and good, so that they are easier to call upon in times of stress.
3) LEAN ON LOVED ONES:
As an ongoing coping mechanism, finding, building and maintaining a solid system of support can go a long way towards alleviating re-entry anxiety. Those in recovery at various stages will often rely on a cohort of personal friends, professional peers and support groups for guidance and a calming discussion or phone call. Similarly, people embarking on a more social and active post-quarantine life can also create a support group of friends and family to help them successfully re-emerge.
The pandemic wreaked havoc on so many areas of modern life, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the field of mental health. In the past year, we have witnessed a dramatic uptick in mental health crises and severity of symptoms. In 2020 for example, drug overdoses were statistically 40% higher than they were in 2019. Although we are opening back up and life is returning to a new normal, the need for treatment was and is increasing. If you are struggling with re-entry anxiety, try to practice self-compassion and non-judgment.