How are you doing? How has Alert Level 2 been for you?
Did you start out excited and joyful to see friends and family again, but now you feel a bit tired, overwhelmed or even just a bit off-kilter?
You are not alone in this. Alert Level 2 started with great excitement for most of us. Free from our homes and our bubbles, excited to see family and friends again. to go out to eat at a cafe, to go shopping and to reconnect with the children and people in our centres.
For me the first few days felt great, I was buzzing with excitement. I was going to be so productive. I made lists of everything I would accomplish for work now that I was no longer homeschooling…
And then Tuesday came along and it was as if I had hit a wall.
I found myself feeling shaky, on the verge of tears, nauseous and unable to eat. I had so much that I wanted to do but found that I just couldn’t. After spending six weeks in my bubble, I could literally feel the stress, the hurry, the expectations and the busyness coming back into my life. It felt like a heavy weight on my heart. As you might already know, I am usually a pretty positive, motivated person, so I knew that something was up.
Have felt some of these feelings too? There is nothing wrong with you. You are 100% normal. You might just be experiencing a phenomenon known as reintegration anxiety.
What is reintegration anxiety?
Reintegration anxiety is sometimes called reverse culture shock or re-entry syndrome.
The concept of reverse culture shock dates back to the early 1960s. US psychologists John and Jeanne Gullahorn observed that after travel and culture shock and homecoming, there’s more ups and downs: readjusting to what was once familiar.James Purtill – Hack
In the past, you may have experienced similar feelings after been away on holiday or overseas for a period of time when adjusting to coming back home or to work. This is especially severe amongst explorers coming back from an Antarctic expedition or soldiers coming home from deployment.
After the joy of reuniting with friends, family and workmates come the reality of adapting and “fitting back in” to our pre-COVID lives. This can be challenging. It is unrealistic to assume that we can just snap our fingers and pick up where we left off.
Some of the symptoms that you or others may experience are:
- Physical symptoms such as an upset stomach, sweaty palms or a racing heart.
- A shift in values, goals, priorities and attitudes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of isolation or depression
Changes, changes, changes…
If we think about it, it makes sense that we should be feeling this way to some degree. We have been through a lot of change during the last few weeks.
First, there was the shock of COVID 19 in our country and all the panic and anxiety that went with that.
Then there was self-isolation and the adjustment to being at home and doing everything online or remotely. Added to this all the language and messaging about how it wasn’t safe to be in our communities, to be around people (even friends and whanau) and that we needed to act like we all had COVID 19.
Then there was the shifting through the levels and the rules and restrictions, worries and anxieties that went with this.
And then it was decided that we were safe to go to level 2 and that we could go back to life as “normal” with the restrictions around this.
We have been constantly adjusting, adapting and going through various stages of shock and grief. If we think about it our nervous systems have been on alert over the last 4 months.
During Alert level 4 and 3 the majority of us spent our time in our bubbles, living at a much slower pace, shielded by noise pollution of life. However, we have suddenly switched realities. We are also adjusting to the new messaging about how it is safe to be at work, school and with other people (but don’t get too complacent, don’t stand too close to someone, use hand-sanitizer, wash your hands!) It is a lot to take in. This can feel confusing, frustrating and counter-intuitive. It is going to take a wee while for our brain’s, nervous systems and hearts to catch up to this change.
It is going to take time for us to get used to the hustle and bustle of life. To be able to trust being out in our communities – to be around people again without fear. Many of us will be grieving the simple joys of life in our bubbles.
Strategies to help yourself manage reintegration anxiety
- Be patient and kind with yourself and those around you. Your feelings are normal. It is going to take 2-3 weeks to adjust and will involve a rollercoaster of emotions.
- Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel like being around others or catching up with family and friends let them know – your loved ones will understand.
- Keep your expectations off yourself and others small and realistic. Don’t overschedule yourself for the next couple of weeks. It is normal to feel tired, demotivated or to need a little extra rest.
- Notice when feelings come up for you and name them. It is okay to feel frustration, worry, anger and anxiety. The power in naming your emotions is that it helps your body to process the feeling and know what to do with it.
- Remember, you are not your emotions. Just because you are feeling anger or anxiety this does not define you. Allow yourself to experience the emotion and tell yourself, “this too shall pass!”
- Talk to a friend or someone you trust about how you are feeling. Chances are that they are feeling this too.
- Give your relationships with others outside of your bubble time to “gel” again. Relationships are built through mundane everyday happenings and shared experiences. Our experience with “lockdown” might have been different from other people. These experiences will have changed us. It might take a bit of time to get in sync again.
- Remember that how you are feeling will influence how you perceive others actions or situations, try to not take things too personally or make hasty decisions during the next few weeks.
- Limit your screen time and time on social media. Give yourself some time to just “Be”.
- If possible find time to intentionally move your body. Our emotions are stored in our bodies and when we move this helps us to release them.
- Spend time outdoors. There is amazing healing in connecting with nature. Sunshine helps our bodies to produce vitamin D which is great for keeping bones strong, but also for boosting your mood.
- Journal how you are feeling. We often give ourselves permission to be more honest or open about our thoughts and feelings on paper when we feel that no-one else will read it. This can be very helpful for working through your thoughts and feelings. (You can always rip up the page or burn it afterwards.)
- If these feelings continue to persist past a few weeks reach out to your doctor for help.
If you are feeling like life is just a wee bit stressful for you at the moment join me for a FREE WEBINAR: Coaching Yourself Through Stress
Or reach out for a FREE Health and Wellbeing Discovery Call where we can discuss how I can help you to make your health and wellbeing a priority.
Call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or text “Help” to 4357.