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Managing re-entry anxiety

1. If you’re anxious remember you are not alone 

A survey by Nuffield Health has found that 47% of people are feeling anxious about returning to in-person interactions with 38% saying they will be socialising less. For well over a year the main message has been that social activity is not safe so it’s little wonder many are now feeling scared at the prospect of returning to it. Long periods of lockdown have left us out of practice in terms of our social skills, and that combined with continued fears about catching the virus (or passing it on) will likely make the transition out of lockdown as challenging as going into it. 

2. Be clear why you are doing it 

You are more likely to succeed if you do some preparation before you return to in-person interaction, particularly if it’s for the first time. Start by bringing to mind why you are doing it. What are the benefits and what will be gained? The answer to these questions will be different for everyone and will help with motivation and getting you through the moments of worry and overwhelm. 

3. Create a plan 

Having a detailed plan for your early interactions will put you back in the driving seat. Work out who you want to meet. It should ideally be someone you trust and who knows you are anxious. Decide what you will do with them – perhaps a gentle walk or a take away coffee. Try to go somewhere that is familiar so you know the layout and choose a time of day when it might be slightly quieter. Finally, think about your boundaries. Work out what you are and aren’t comfortable with and stick to them without apology. 

4. Go slow, go small, but go

Don’t jump in at the deep end, but instead start small. Do something that you are pretty sure you can do but haven’t done yet. From there set yourself small goals that progressively get you closer to what you find most uncomfortable. Remember that this will take time, so stick with it and try to do something every day. 

5. Be kind to yourself 

We are usually very good at showing kindness and compassion to the people we cherish. Now is the time to show that kindness to yourself. Meet your anxiety with compassion, be encouraging and understanding when it doesn’t go according to plan and congratulate yourself on successes, no matter how small. By practising self-compassion (rather than self-criticism) we can change our brain chemistry so we actually feel less anxious. 

6. Steady yourself with connection

Anxiety can feel very overwhelming so use connection to steady yourself. By sharing how you feel with someone you trust, not only will your anxiety reduce but they will then be better placed to know how to help you. Alternatively, use simple breathing techniques to steady yourself and connect you to the present moment.