Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

The Rough Side of Re-entry

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Vaccinations are happening. We are slowly starting to leave the house, go places, see people, do things. This is such a relief for so many people: those who haven’t been able to work, those who are lonely, those who are bored, extroverts. These folks are sprinting toward re-entry with grins on their faces and wide-open arms.

Others of us are cautiously sauntering at best. We expect re-entry to be at least a little rough. I am one of this crew. As appreciative as I am of the wonderful parts, of which there are lots, I am also sad about losing this intense togetherness time with my family. Being home for a year with our two little kids has been challenging and an incredible gift. I’m going to miss it. Also, I am a firm introvert, and I’m already exhausted thinking about engaging with people on a regular basis. Even though they’re people I like.

There are more of us in this crew than you might think:

Those of us who are introverts (hey friends!) are about to get yanked out of the cozy space created by the hard boundary of COVID. For a year, we haven’t had to engage in draining (even if also meaningful) social dynamics at work or in our free time. We haven’t even had to make excuses – it turns out that a global pandemic is the best excuse ever for not socializing. As we re-enter in-person society, our energy will have increased demands on it.  We are going to feel more tired on a daily basis.

Know that being drained by social interaction and recharging only when alone is a legitimate way to be. Re-enter social life as slowly as you need to. When you’re out in the world, pay attention to how drained you feel. Be compassionate instead of judgmental with yourself about wanting to be alone. Expect that your boundaries may feel jostled when you are in person with others. Everyone is having to readjust our boundaries and social behaviors because we’re out of practice. Give yourself and everyone else room to readjust to this new/old way of life.

***

Those of us who struggle with change are bracing ourselves. We are facing an enormous change. Even if it’s “good” change, it’s still change. It’s still uncomfortable. It’s having to rip up the deep and stubborn roots we’ve grown for the past year. It’s having to get used to a different schedule and different types of stimulation and different energy expenditures. It’s having to live with a new kind of uncertainty as life becomes what it is becoming.

This is a time to be patient with yourself. Remind yourself that it makes sense that the changes feel uncomfortable, and that there will be an endpoint. It will take effort to adjust to all of the changes, no way around it. It takes more effort to resist the changes, so work on accepting them. Take it one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. Don’t try to see the whole big picture at once if it feels too overwhelming. Keep routine where you can. Practice deep breathing and mindfulness regularly, and especially when you feel overwhelmed.

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Those of us who have gained weight are really, really not looking forward to being seen and feeling judged. For all of this time, we haven’t had to worry about being seen beneath our shoulders. We’ve been wearing comfort clothes and eating comfort food. We’ve been moving our bodies less – doing telesessions, I can sit in my chair for eight hours without getting up once. We’ve been stressed, anxious, sad, bored, exhausted, and depressed. We’ve had less money for healthy food. There are so many reasons that we’ve gained weight. They are all valid. They are all just us being human. Having feelings and trying to comfort ourselves is sooooooo valid.

Having gained weight, still gaining weight, being in a bigger body – none of this is open for judgment. Our weight does not make us good or bad or better or worse than other people. Our weight has nothing to do with our worth. Be kind to yourself about your own body judgment. Practice self-acceptance and body neutrality, and work on staying out of other people’s heads. The more we focus on what others might be thinking, the less connected we are to ourselves and our intentions. Focus on doing what sounds fun, interesting, and fulfilling in life.

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Those of us who have lower energy are not looking forward to having to do more. Working from home has its challenges for sure. But overall, the energy output is much lower for most than physically going in to work or going to meet friends or going to do things on the weekend. Driving places, walking places, public-transporting to places takes energy. People do more walking in an office setting than an at-home-office setting. It takes energy to have small talk with four different people on your way to your workspace. When you don’t have enough energy to begin with, this all quickly adds up to daily exhaustion.

Ease into the changes as much as possible. Build downtime into your new schedule as much as possible. Follow your body’s cues, not society’s, to adjust your energy output. Be aware of your food intake and sleep – make sure you’re consistently getting enough of both. If you feel guilty for not being as energetic, enthusiastic, or productive as other people, practice self-acceptance and self-compassion.

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There are dozens of other reasons people feel hesitant about re-entry. Some people aren’t convinced that it’s safe. Some are worried that their romantic relationship won’t survive being in the “real world” again, or for the first time. Some are concerned that their social skills are rusty, and they will be awkward and will be judged for it. Some are concerned that things will now be expected of them (get a better job, be more social, find a partner) that they won’t be able to do. Some are sad that the whole family won’t be home all the time anymore.

All of it makes sense in this situation. Things changed in a huge way a year ago, and things are changing in another huge way now. Like then, we don’t really know what the path ahead looks like. It will be different, and it will be uncertain. These are not my crew’s favorite kinds of paths. Lucky for us, those parts of the paths will have an endpoint, though it may be just out of sight at the moment.

The pandemic has created a way of life in the past year that for some has been horrible, for some has been meaningful, and for most has been in-between and up and down. Of course, there is immeasurable value in us being able to able to come together again in person. And it will bring its own challenges. That is to be expected, so don’t criticize yourself for not doing “better” with it. Re-entry is going to be bumpy. Make room for the challenges. Make room for others to be having them too. There will be an adjustment period for everyone. Re-entry is rarely completely smooth for all kinds of reasons, but eventually we will land and come to a complete stop.

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