As we begin to lift out of pandemic mode here on Long Island, we need to recognize that our anxiety response has been on alert for over a year now. This means adrenaline and cortisol levels have been high for many of us for a whole year. That’s a big deal. To start to come out of this, we need to take baby steps back in to the world. Utilizing pieces of exposure therapy, we can slowly get back to a new normal. For most, jumping right back in is not desired and not possible. Instead, perhaps you’ve thought about new ways of being in this world. Incorporate that!
We need little bites of re-entry in order to remind our nervous systems that we can feel safe again, that we are as safe as we can be now. Big bites are likely to be too much to handle.
If you plan to meet a friend, do it for 30 minutes, not an hour. Work your way up to that three-hour air-conditioned hangout.
You can also slowly take some calculated risks. For example, leave the hand sanitizer behind. Put your mask in a place it’s not as easy to get to, maybe in a zippered bag. This might feel scary and that’s okay. If you’re as safe as you can be (likely vaccinated and near others who are likely to be vaccinated), then this is a bite-sized risk.
Manageable bites that get increasingly closer to life without the overwhelming anxiety is the goal here. Just flooding your system might be helpful but it’s not usually a self-compassionate approach
Practice ways to mitigate your anxiety
If you notice that fear response during a bite sized excursion, consider sitting with it and letting it pass. It’s a train going through a tunnel. It will pass. Maybe notice where you are, find 5 blue items in a space.
Consider utilizing a 0-100 scale to help you keep track of the intensity of your anxiety and also how it changes. Mostly just out of curiosity, not so much to control the anxiety. The data you can collect will often speak for itself. What makes the anxiety better, worse, the same. How does time change the level? How does any particular activity, person, place, etc?
It’s usually important to ground yourself in the present. Not so much to check your body for symptoms, but moreso to recognize the parts of you that are alive and connected to the universe. How does the floor feel beneath your feet? How does the air feel on your skin?
Don’t expect immediate change
It’s okay to be anxious, worried, scared. We’ve had good reason to be very scared for a long time now. And our nervous system remembers and is trying to keep us safe. But we’re as safe as we can be now. So it’s okay to feel anxious and keep doing things anyway.
Don’t be ashamed. Anyone who seems like they’re not worried is likely feeling anxious and allowing that anxiety to co-exist with daily living instead of the anxiety running the show 24/7. We’re all experiencing this together.