I’m not the same person I was before COVID. I hardly go out, and feel anxious when I have to leave home. What can I do ?
Hi @foo122, thank you for reaching out. I hear that you’ve been feeling anxious about leaving home since the pandemic. I imagine that this must be a difficult time for you, especially now that things have slowly started to open up again.
Something as significant as a global pandemic can change a lot of things both in our environment and within ourselves. These changes can have long-lasting effects. So if you haven’t been feeling like the same person you were before the pandemic, one thing for sure is that you’re definitely not alone in this! Everyone has been exposed to the stressors of the pandemic in one way or another, but it is important to also bear in mind that we all adapt to this new norm differently and at different paces. It’s almost like experiencing mixed reactions as we transition back is something to be expected.
Firstly, what we can do is to acknowledge and to get to the bottom of our anxiety. Allow yourself to notice and express what you’re feeling. One way to do this is to name and write down what is making us feel anxious. For example, you may wish to ask yourself: what is it about leaving the house that makes you anxious? Naming our fears helps to turn them into things that we can evaluate and prepare for. Once you’ve done that, you can start to think about how accurate those worries actually are, and perhaps even start to challenge them. We have a chatbot exercise that might be able to guide you along with this (1).
Once you’ve identified these, we can try to counter these anxiety-inducing thoughts with more rational counter statements. An anxiety-inducing thought could be, “Everyone is going to be judging me”. A rational thought we could counter this with could be, “Nobody really judges me as much as I judge myself. I’m going to focus on being confident in myself no matter what others think.” You may even wish to use these statements as something like a mantra that you can say to yourself in moments of anxiety, as you start to reintroduce yourself into society. Writing these down on a thought log may be helpful, so that you can refer to it subsequently whenever you may need a reminder (2).
Often, we tend to interpret the sense of anxiety as a sign that we should not do whatever is making us anxious. However, in reality, it is sometimes just our bodies signalling that a situation is new or different. Avoiding the situation may, on the contrary, cause a build-up of anxiety in the long-term. You can learn more about the cycle of anxiety here (3). Instead of completely avoiding going out, what we can do is to try and take things at our own pace. For example, you could start with having a meal in an open area outdoors, before slowly working your way to higher levels of exposure, such as dining indoors at a restaurant. Alternatively, you could start with spending a certain amount of time in a group setting, before progressing to longer spans of time once you’re more comfortable. Learn more about creating an exposure hierarchy here (4).
Lastly, mindful relaxation exercises may help you stay grounded in the midst of overwhelming emotions, when it may be challenging to process the anxiety. You can try the Box breathing technique (5) or our guided deep breathing exercise (6). As you do this, try to imagine these anxiety-inducing thoughts and your feelings coming and going, like passing clouds. Know that, just as these feelings come, they will also leave us.
Hopefully some of these tools will be able to help you in this time. If the anxiety gets too overwhelming, or you would like further guidance on how to cope with the anxiety, you may consider visiting a professional to work through it with you in a more in-depth manner.
(1) Mental Support & Wellbeing Resources in Singapore to Improve Workplace Mental Health | mindline.sg
(5) Box breathing relaxation technique: how to calm feelings of stress or anxiety - YouTube
(6) Mental Support & Wellbeing Resources in Singapore to Improve Workplace Mental Health | mindline.sg