As the CDC lifts restrictions around social distancing and masks for vaccinated individuals, people can get out and about more freely. This can feel exciting as it allows us to eat at restaurants, see friends, and engage in all the other activities we missed during quarantine. However, it can also feel stressful — especially for people experiencing reemergence anxiety.
According to Shontel Cargill, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Thriveworks in Cumming, Georgia, reemergence anxiety is the “fear of re-entering back into society, specifically as it pertains to remaining safe while the world opens back up during the ongoing pandemic.”
Understandably, this time can cause stress for a variety of reasons. “The pressure of conforming to the ‘new normal’ as the world re-opens brings with it added stress and anxiety to an increased number of people,” said Sandra Cumper Boynton, DBH, the executive director of NAMI Broward County. “Post-related anxiety, health anxiety, safety and preventive behavior, intolerance of uncertainty, and distress intolerance continue to pose a threat to people’s mental health.”
We are not all on the same page about getting back to life as it was. If you are worried your partner may be struggling with this? First, check for the symptoms.
According to Cargill, you want to look out for increased fear, social anxiety, ruminating thoughts about COVID, sleeplessness, nervousness, and stress.
According to Dr. Cumper, some additional signs include hoarding, an intolerance to uncertainty, and anxiety about getting sick.
If you notice these signs, here are six ways you can support your partner.
Listen to your partner as they share their worries
Dr. Cumper encourages people to ask their partner how they can show support most effectively. One way you can do so is by simply listening to them talk about their concerns.
“One of the best things a partner can do is to listen in order to understand what their partner is experiencing. It can be easy to assume you know what someone else is going through; however, this is usually not the case,” she explained.
Talk about what reentry will look like for you two as a couple
After listening, you may realize you two have different feelings about reemergence. If this is the case, Cargill suggests empathetic and patient communication.
“Prioritize having intentional conversations about your goals, as individuals and as a couple, for traveling, spending time with friends and family, attending events, et cetera,” Cargill said. “If your partner chooses to continue COVID-safe practices until they feel comfortable, support them. Give yourself and your partner grace and time to gradually transition back in the world, and practice socialization in a way that feels safe for the both of you.”
Create a routine that’s unrelated to COVID
Staying informed about recent COVID updates can be helpful, but you want to try to avoid it overtaking your life. “Focusing on COVID-19 news continuously throughout the day can affect your emotional health. Organize your time and day to help you feel more productive and focused on other things within your control,” Dr. Cumper recommended.
Seek professional support from a therapist
Therapy can be incredibly helpful for people struggling with their mental health. “I would encourage individual therapy for both partners and couples therapy to process and unpack the impact of the pandemic on an individual and relational level,” Cargill said.
Therapists can give a variety of tips you may not have thought of. “Mental health professionals can provide interventions and tools such as guided meditation, grounding exercises, CBT, and other coping strategies to help individuals and couples navigate their journeys of healing together,” Cargill explained.
Understand the vulnerability that can come with reemergence anxiety and be supportive.
People struggling with anxiety tend to feel extra vulnerable. “These people tend to be prone to heightened distress and intensified behavioral responses to pandemics,” Dr. Cumper said. “Health care providers should be especially sensitive to the mental health burden of this risk group and ensure easy access to qualified information and support measures.” Try to be extra patient with your partner and their mood changes, as they’re going through a lot.
Individually and as a couple, think about what you’re grateful for.
Anxiety can cause people to focus on future worries and the tough parts of life — in which thankfulness can help. “It is amazing what being present and living in gratitude can do to change your perspective on life,” Cargill shared. “Try writing gratitude letters to each other… Some relationships didn’t survive the pandemic, but yours did.”
She suggested some questions you can consider or journal about, such as:
● What did you learn about yourselves and each other during the pandemic?
● What did you accomplish?
● How did you strengthen your relationship during these times of uncertainty?
All in all, know you two can get through this. Like Cargill said, your relationship made it through the pandemic, so it can make it through the country’s re-opening, too.