If You’re Scared for Quarantine to End, You’re Not Alone

A photo of a girl putting on a face mask while preparing to go outside.
A photo of a girl putting on a face mask while preparing to go outside.
Photo: Justin Paget/Getty Images

In some cities and states, people can once again see their co-workers in person, get a dental checkup, or make plans to safely visit family again. In others, it will happen soon.

For many, the return to some semblance of normalcy offers a sense of relief. But that’s not true for everyone. If you’re feeling worried about the gradual end to sheltering-in-place, or — even more confusingly — already know that you’ll miss it, rest assured that you’re far from alone. There are legitimate reasons to feel uneasy about quarantine ending, especially if some aspects of this time (however paradoxically) improved your habits or mental health in some meaningful way.

Here’s how to cope:

Recognize why you’re anxious

The first step is getting to the core of why reopening worries you. Andrea Bonior, PhD, author of Detox Your Thoughts, says she’s seen clients express two different types of anxiety. One is tied to uncertainty, such as fearing a second wave of infection or having to adapt to new situations, like wearing a mask at work. The other is linked to real emotional perks that quarantine may have offered, and not wanting to feel worse again when it’s over.

“Maybe there were certain obligations that were very draining for you and more stressful than you realized,” says Bonior. “Maybe you were being busy for the sake of being busy and filling your days with a lot of activity or sometimes saying ‘yes’ to social engagements that actually didn’t really fulfill and sustain you.”

If you felt calmer or even happier in quarantine, it’ll help to identify exactly what did the trick. Did you save a lot of money from not going out and don’t want to spend it all again? You can at least assess what it turns out you don’t need to be happy (like expensive daily lunches you don’t even like as much as your own meal-preps) and what you do.

Did you rebond with old friends and now feel like you’ll grow apart again? You can still keep up the habit of FaceTiming, even if it’s a little less frequent.

Did you originally plan a drastic change this year—such as moving away, going to grad school, or changing careers—feel temporary relief from postponing the decision, and are now more confused than ever as to what you should do? Talk it out with the people you’re closest to, and plan for each scenario. For instance, can you do anything to make your current job or home more manageable? If you planned on going to school, is an online degree possible? Having things to look forward to even as you prepare for the worst is still possible, and can help you regain some sense of control over the things you can’t (such as the possibility of sheltering-in-place again in the fall).

Hold on to what made you calm

Some of Bonior’s clients benefitted from quarantine because they learned how to “cut out what usually takes up their time, as well as replace certain habits with creative endeavors or hobbies.” If you got into puzzles, cross-stitching, or baking in quarantine, Bonior says it’s good to keep those up, as well as any other pursuits that made you feel better (like staying home more often, if that’s been a nice change for you).

Of course, there are limits to what can stay the same. For instance, if you were happier because your in-person work environment is extremely toxic, going back to the office might put you on edge.

“I wouldn’t advise anyone to quit their job right now,” says Bonior. “But that’s something that you can still keep in mind long-term.” As the economy heals, you can start to take micro-steps to switching your career — using how you felt in quarantine as a reminder that sometimes changing your environment can make all the difference.

Monitor how bad social media makes you feel — even when life is objectively better

For some, living without the pressure of posting vacation pics, huge group hangs, or portrait-mode selfies might have been all it took to feel much more relaxed. As people reconvene to socialize again, those old FOMO-y feelings might come back. Maybe you’re preemptively dreading them.

“Think about exactly the root of that pressure and whether or not you want to let it back in your life,” advises Bonior, “because you may have more control over it than you give yourself credit for.”

Forgive yourself for slipping into old habits

If quarantine felt like a productive time for you, consider how to maintain the new habits you developed, whether it’s cooking more often, journaling every day, or just being easier on yourself.

Naturally, when our schedules go back to normal, there’s going to be some backsliding. You might get too busy to call your mom whenever you want or forget how nice a daily walk was.

“The first step is really making sure you take it one day at a time,” says Bonior. “Make sure even though you feel like you’re not coping well with change and you feel really anxious about it, you look at your track record.”

When you feel inclined to panic that you’re devolving to your “old ways,” or won’t be able to handle new challenges, Bonior says to remember that you’ve already done so much already.

Just think of all the changes and challenges you’ve weathered recently: You sat through sheltering-in-place, created new habits to cope, and potentially already dealt with a job loss (or serious fear of one). If you “slip up” and start to burn yourself out at work again, you can always take a step back and reconfigure. After all, you’ve done it before.

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