By: Dr. Joseph Tropper, PsyD, MS, LCPC, CCTP
“Joseph, we have to talk ASAP.” Many of us are all too familiar with these frantic calls. However, we have a sense of when something is really important.
These messages are always intriguing to me plus I try my best to be prompt in getting back to my clients as they are important to me.
“Hey Sam*” I say on the call return, “what’s going on? I received your message.”
“Doc, remember how I’ve been complaining how isolated and bored I am?!”
“Yes, absolutely, this quarantine and COVID-19 situation was very difficult for you and many of us.”
“Right, but now that I’m allowed to go out, I am scared out of my mind. What is wrong with me?! Do you think I’m losing it?!”
“No, Sam, you are not alone and your reaction and feelings are totally normal. Let’s take a look at some ways to deal with it.”
For many of us who have been in quarantine for the past 2 to 3 months, the concept of city restrictions being opened is very welcomed and relieving. However, with this reopening comes lots of anxiety and uncertainty as well.
1) You are normal
Think about my friend who was in a car accident. He was deeply shaken up and I remember speaking to him that night. He swore to me that he was simply to scared to every get behind the wheel again. I listened and normalized. (I was a therapist as a teenager, even before I was degreed and licensed! You know the type) It’s very normal to feel that way. I know you and would not be surprised to see you behind the wheel real soon. As so it was a few days later. After a few weeks, the event was all but forgotten. Thus, for most people, I think this feeling of fear is totally normal and will likely go away pretty quickly.
2) Protecting self and family
It’s important to remember that our entire reason for these shelter in place and social distancing orders were for the sake of curbing the spread of a possibly life-threatening virus. That being said, knowing that there is still some risk of infection, it is very understandable why we may still feel anxious about the thought of venturing out. To you I say, “take it slow, take precautions to stay safe and you will be fine.”
3) Social anxiety acting up
For many people, the fear of judgement of others as well as the desire to be alone has been very much fed into over the past few months. In fact, anecdotally, I have found that some of my clients with social anxiety have done the best during these times as they welcome isolation. However, for all of us, there is a little bit of a stage fright and fear of new things to venture out into that big scary social world again. To you I say, “start small, safely spend time with small groups of friends and family, pending state regulations, and you will see that in no time it will feel “normal again.”
4) Not looking forward to work
Another aspect here is that many of us have had much freedom working from home. Sure, our bellies got a little bigger and we finally gained a better appreciation of the stay at home mom and dads, but we also finally got to ignore our boss. Having to go back out, for many, is very triggering and means that work demands and the jerk boss (not mine at all, honestly, editor’s note) is hot on my trail again. To you I say, “don’t worry, he or she may be more stressed and demanding, but you will continue to utilize your resilient new skills to deal with the demands as they come your way.
5) Seek out support
For many people, especially those with trauma background, the isolation, fear and pandemic disorder which COVID-19 brought, is something that has triggered old memories and issues. This is totally normal, but I do recommend that you speak to a competent professional to deal. Additionally, if you just have strong emotions which the first four items can’t take care of, then that may be an indication that speaking to someone professional is in order. To you I say, “Firstly, good help is available. I can tell you from the inside that I am deeply impressed by the rally that I have seen from my colleagues and the entire field, in which many mental health professionals have risen to the occasion with dedication and passion, focusing on helping those in need and learning new methods of Telehealth and trauma treatment. Secondly, there is going to be a rush on therapy starting soon, and from what I expect, for months to come, so get started now to find someone who is a match for your needs!”
So Sam, you are totally normal and many of us feel the same way. Take it slow, I think you’re gonna be okay. This has been a hard three months, we’ve lost many great people from all walks of life and we have much rebuilding ahead of us. We all have a range from jitters to fear to severe inhibition to reenter the “normal outside life” again. We’re a resilient race and we will continue to move forward, slowly, together, with brighter days in our grasp and with hearts filled with gratitude, care and love for our newfound humanity.