While ‘getting back out there’ will continue to look very different than the way we lived our lives pre-COVID-19, restrictions are carefully being lifted. While we still need to mask up and maintain social distancing, we can begin doing many of the activities we put on hold for a year! Whoo-hoo! Yes!…So excited!!! Or, maybe its a bit of a mixed reaction. No way am I leaving the safety and security of my home! The COVID-19 pandemic has created fear and uncertainty about our health and the health of those we love. Despite robust vaccination efforts, there is still uncertainty, given the rise in cases in some parts of the country. So, if you are immunosuppressed, as many living with cancer are, the idea of possibly putting yourself at risk by ‘getting back out there’ may seem like crazy making or what is being termed, “Re-entry Anxiety”.
Most of us are feeling re-entry anxiety at some level, this is normal considering the threat we have had hanging over us for over a year now. The good news is there are things we can do to manage our anxiety. Below are 10 tips taken directly from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. Please visit their website for more detail related to each of these tips.
Practice Being in the Present Moment: Take a few minutes a day to pause and practice mindfulness. Mindfulness involves non-judgmental attention to and awareness of the present moment
Recognize What You Can Control: Doing simple, but, important things such as following COVID-19CDC guidelines can help you regain some sense of control in otherwise uncertain times. Recognizing and working on what you can control, can be a valuable step in overcoming anxiety.
Pay Attention to Your Unique Situation: Your re-entry anxiety may have additional, valid reasons- for instance, if you are 60 years of age or above, or suffering from underlying health conditions(s). Especially, in this case, it’s important to consult your physician before making any re-entry decisions or plans.
Engage in Something Fulfilling: Playing a game with your child, listening to your favorite music or playing a musical instrument, exercising, painting/drawing, or helping an elderly neighbor (while maintaining physical distancing) are some examples of activities that can be fulfilling and contribute to enhanced emotional well-being.
Take a Gradual Approach: If required to resume certain activities, doing it gradually, one step at a time (while following guidelines), rather than rushing into things full force, is likely to work better.
Journal: Journaling can have positive health benefits. Even a few minutes a day of journaling may be beneficial.
Schedule a Time to Worry: Scheduling a time during the day for worrying can be a useful strategy to manage anxiety. Select a time which you schedule as a ‘worry period’ for 20-30 minutes every day.
Practice Gratitude: Gratitude-based interventions can be helpful for anxiety. Particularly in a pandemic, when plans seem to be going awry, writing down things one is grateful for, is a valuable exercise that can offer a bigger picture perspective.
Avoid Alcohol: Many people find themselves leaning on alcohol to cope with anxiety. It can start with a seemingly benign drink and burgeon into something problematic. Get professional help if you find yourself in this scenario.
Stay Connected: The pandemic has caused many to feel isolated. We know that social connectedness is a positive, protective factor for mental health. The good news is that technology makes it possible to stay connected with friends and family members, while exercising physical distancing, so, stay connected.
In addition to the above-mentioned strategies, it’s important to attend to self-care. Sleep, regular healthy meals, and regular physical exercise (as permitted by your physician), can go a long way in improving physical as well as mental health. We hope this has been helpful as you plan the speed of your “re-entry” after the past year and wish you wonderful adventures ahead.
In this regular blog post with Mary Ellen Shands, RN, we dive a little deeper into some of the emotional impacts of Living with Cancer during the Pandemic and discuss strategies to help manage them.