It’s what everyone had been hoping and praying for: a return to some approximation of normalcy.
As Community Leader goes to press, life looks more like it did before.
Yet concerns about venturing back into the world persist, even among those fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Cleveland Clinic clinical psychologist Dr. Adam Borland calls it “reentry anxiety.” He offers advice for dealing with it beyond the usual eat well, exercise and get enough sleep.
Recognize and validate fears. Just as there was no one right way to adapt to a world that shut down, there is no one right way to reenter it. While some people are ready to dive right back in, others are more comfortable operating at a slow wade.
“It’s going to be important for us to recognize our emotions and say, ‘You know what? It’s OK that I’m feeling this way,’” he says.
Live in the moment. Many people worry so much about the future that they miss the joys of the present.
“Individuals create this anxiety narrative,” Borland says. “And it often entails catastrophic thinking, where individuals go to the absolute worst-case scenario. What people often find is that these thoughts never occur.”
He advises utilizing coping tools such as guided deep breathing.
“One of them is remembering … that anxiety is not permanent,” he says. “I often use the wave example. It will eventually reach its crest and come back down.”
Take control of what you can. Borland gives the example of patients who overcame their fears about making the trip to the COVID-19 vaccination site set up at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center — being in a large crowd, etc. — in part by taking steps as simple as arriving early for their appointments so they had time to acclimate to the environment and reminding/assuring themselves that strict safety precautions were set in place.
“We often underestimate the control we have over our fears.,” he says..
Maintain open lines of communication. Express concerns to friends and relatives, including reservations about attending a family celebration or letting a child go to a sleepover.
Back to School Blues?
Heading back to school may be more difficult after a year spent attending classes online or in limited in-person instruction, particularly for children who typically experience anxiety as they adjust to new teachers and classmates.
Dr. David W. Miller, medical director of pediatric integrative medicine in the University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, says parents can begin easing the transition by learning about the school’s COVID-19 safety protocols and sharing them with their children so they’ll know what to expect. He tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who returned to school at the end of the last academic year and was shocked by the social-distancing measures enforced in hallways, at cafeteria tables, etc.
“If a child chooses to wear a mask or has to continue wearing a mask, practice social distancing, etc., in a school where such measures are not dictated, help him or her prepare a response when asked why,” Miller says.
“The younger the child, the easier it is to just say, ‘My mom says I have to,’” Miller says. Older children can reply that they’re being extra cautious to protect a vulnerable family member. “It’s sort of an inarguable point that everyone will understand immediately.”
Some kids may question why it’s safe to go back to school after a year when it wasn’t. Miller recommends acknowledging in age-appropriate language the ambiguities inherent in a learn-as-we-go situation, then explaining that the school has implemented safety measures and will alter them as COVID-19 infection rates and scientific findings dictate. Encourage flexibility and adaptability.
“Frame it, especially this coming year, as ‘This is what we’re doing right this moment, but we may be doing something different in the near future if we learn new things,” he says.
The Disaster Doctor is Here
Living by the Scout motto “Be prepared” has served Dr. John Torres well in his careers as an Air Force pilot, emergency room physician and NBC senior medical correspondent. In his new book Dr. Disaster’s Guide to Surviving Everything: Essential Advice for Any Situation Life Throws Your Way, he shares instruction in prepping for and living through every natural and manmade peril imaginable.
Gun and knife attacks. Make a mental note of multiple exits when entering public buildings and outdoor events. “Put your head on a swivel,” Torres adds.
Civil unrest. Those who inadvertently find themselves in the middle of a protest should get out. “If the police come in, if agitators come in, they’re going to assume you are part of that protest, regardless of why you’re there or how you ended up in that situation,” he says. If barricades are set up, backtrack or move forward as quickly as possible.
Airplane disasters. Torres cites a University of Glasgow study that suggests the safest seats are those within five rows of an exit. He keeps his wallet, passport, phone and keys in his pockets so an emergency deplaning isn’t delayed by trying to grab a bag from an overhead bin. And he keeps his shoes on during takeoffs and landings. “That’s the time when most things are going to happen,” he explains.
Regardless of the predicament, don’t panic. Panic can immobilize, and as Torres puts it, “hesitation kills.” Making a wrong move is better than doing nothing at all. He shares the oft-repeated opinion of the NATO Special Forces soldiers he instructs in skills such as tactical combat casualty care.
“They say, ‘I’d rather have a leader who does something, even if it’s wrong, than a leader who can’t make a decision,’” he says.