GETTING BACK ON THE HORSE
The Covid 19 State of Emergency officially ended here last month. In his State of the Nation address President Dr. Mokweetsi Masisi noted its end but reminded us all that that is by no means the end of the pandemic which is still around and still affecting all our behaviours.
As a preamble let me recap what that has entailed. For the first time in the lives of anyone under the grand old age of 100 found themselves in the grip of a global virus with potentially fatal consequences. Emanating from China, in early 2020 we learned that whole cities had been closed off and people ordered to stay in their homes lest they come into contact with this virus and that those who had to venture out were ordered to wear masks and gloves for protection. Little did we know that in a very short time, such restrictions would apply to people all over the world, ourselves included, as governments everywhere introduced similar measures in varying degrees of severity. Major cities such as London, Paris, New York , Sydney and Madrid became ghost towns overnight and individuals found themselves prisoners in their own homes. Where possible we were advised to work from home and meet virtually online, schools were closed and students were home-taught, online food and other sales boomed as a frightened human race hid behind their front doors in dread fear of this killer virus.
Then in the nick of time, several pharmaceutical companies developed vaccines to combat Covid, epidemiologists devised better treatments for those who caught it and finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel – freedom could be glimpsed. Life could slowly start to return to normal.
Except that many could not and still can’t and it’s anyway a new ‘normal’. Here we’re still under an official mask mandate so we have no choice but to continue wearing them in public but in many countries where the compulsion has been lifted, many people are now so fearful of germ exposure they continue to mask up before venturing out in public. Indeed in surveys many have expressed a desire to continue wearing them for ever and all time!
And workers now free to return to work have indicated a preference to carry on working from home. Though some of these undoubtedly are simply rebelling against the wage-slave life of daily commutes and travel expenses, there are also plenty who genuinely fear returning to what they see as germ-ridden, unhealthy interaction with their co-workers.
The same can be said for children who can be mentally more susceptible to external influences than adults. Told for the past 18 months to mask up in their classrooms, sent home and ordered to return in a dizzying array of about-turns, little wonder many of them are now confused and fearful of what was perfectly normal 2 years ago – mixing freely with their peers and yes, even catching each others’ illnesses.
American GP Lisa McClean wrote in the American Medical Association online “Some people can’t wait to finally feel free and go back to the way we were living without masks. However, for many…….(this) creates fear and anxiety. That’s because for over a year we’ve been told that masks protect each other. We’ve been trained to fear the virus and that is not something that is going to go away overnight. We’ve also been told to distance ourselves from people, so it is going to create stress. Not knowing who has been vaccinated or not adds additional anxiety.”
She also cautions that many people will suffer mental health problems, stemming from fear of the disease, isolation anxiety and a general feeling of powerlessness. This new syndrome has even been given a name ‘Re-Entry Anxiety’. The Psycom site states ‘If all this change is making you feel stressed, you may be experiencing post-pandemic re-entry anxiety, or cave syndrome (a non-medical term possibly coined
by psychiatrist Arthur Bergman, MD), and a form of agoraphobia.
It’s not as far-fetched as it may sound. One study found re-entry is almost on a par with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And if this sounds like you, there are some suggestions as to how to cope.
• Enlist support. Talk with and hang around others that help distract you and encourage you to be social. Being around people who understand and will gently nudge you forward may help you get over your re-entry fears
• Set boundaries. Though authorities say it’s safe, it’s OK to have a different level of comfort with the new norms. Wear your mask if it makes you feel protected, hang out with only vaccinated friends if that’s right for you, skip concerts or crowded hotspots and build up to those bigger events by going at a pace you can tolerate. Start with a small gathering of friends before you step into a party
• Create a bucket list of things you’ve missed most. Whether it’s shopping at your favourite store, going to book club, travelling, or dating, make note of what you wish to be able to get back to. Having some motivation for the activities and lifestyle you crave, can help with overcoming the anxiety about participating in them.
• Feel the fear and do it anyway. While this can be tough, sometimes the anticipation of the event is worse than the actual event. Prove to yourself that you can get out there and once you do, each subsequent social event will be easier. Research shows that exposing yourself to things you avoid helps you heal and gain confidence.
• Keep what worked. If your anxiety centres on returning to the pre-pandemic hustle and bustle of before, focus on the good that came from being locked down with loved ones. Keep newfound traditions like family puzzles, game night, or after-work bike rides with your partner.
• Seek treatment. For most, re-entry anxiety will fade as you develop a new normal but if you’re still struggling with fears of getting back into the swing of things, it’s affecting your relationships or daily functioning, it may be time to seek professional help to get you over the hump, whether an in-person therapist or a virtual one, to give you the tools you need to get back out there.
For many of us, of course, we just can’t wait!