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Emerging From COVID

[ˌrēəˈmərj(ə)ns] NOUN
The process of coming into sight or prominence once more.

– The Oxford English Dictionary

I have been calling this a time of re-emergence with my clients.

That title incorporates a three-fold situation which we are beginning to experience at this phase of the pandemic; Vaccinations are occurring, a year has passed and, for those in the middle and northern part of America, Spring has sprung. Thus, our minds and hearts—so exhausted by social distancing and COVID-19 precautions—look to coming forth. As my clients and I consider re-emerging, I’m beginning to notice a set of anxious, even grief-type thoughts and emotions are also rising. Out of necessity I now describe this set of thoughts and emotions as “re-emergence stress.”

My clients are not alone. Post-COVID return-to-work-anxiety is on the rise according to both ABC News and CNBC. USA Today and TIME Online are also running features. Dr. Grant Blashki told ABC that re-emergence stress is becoming a common phenomenon with his clients as well “because for some, there’s been that silver lining story, when they’ve enjoyed the time at home and getting out of the rat race with more time for reflection and families, and now they’re having to get back on the train.” A similar sentiment was shared at CNBC, noting that people are concerned because “the pandemic has brought about positive changes in their lives, and they’re afraid of losing what they’ve gained” while also coping with “extreme fear of the disease, or anxiety about reacclimating into society” (Rodriguez, 2021).

Back in May, in the article Turning Yellow, we outlined three steps that people who live in similar states to our fine Pennsylvania could use to adapt as we moved from threat level Red to threat level Green. In short, they were: 1) Talk about the change now, before you have to adapt 2) Make a plan and 3) Go forth gradually. Those three steps are still the best advice for our time of re-emergence. Of higher priority was our step zero in that article: Keep Coping.

With that in mind, today is about step zero. How to cope with re-emergence stress and all that it brings. Just like every other point of the pandemic, from construction our first COVID-19 Enjoyable Life, through the summer, school and the holidays, we here at KK.com will look at this next phase directly, mindfully and with an attitude of gratitude and a heart of acceptance.

Acceptance Is Crucial

Acceptance doesn’t mean that life gets better;
It just means that my way of living life on life’s terms improves.

– Sharon E. Rainey,
Artist, Author and Advocate

I was not intending this to be a click-list of our COVID posts—but we talked about acceptance before in the article about beginning virtual school with a focus on accepting our thoughts, feelings and world then making a value-based commitment to how you want to live and then taking action. The acronym ACT, remember? Acceptance is the first step, and as I mentioned above, we’re going to look very directly at some of the roots of re-emergence stress before we do any accepting.

I’m trying to say this with all gentleness and inclusivity but, be aware, in that inclusiveness there are some challenging realities. Let’s get the biggest one out of the way: At the start of the COVID-19 shut down most Americans were full of anxiety, frustration with what they we losing and feeling powerless to hold on to it. Now, as the vaccine has arrived and the return of Life As We Know It is on the horizon… an increasingly large number of Americans are full of anxiety, frustration with what they are losing and feeling powerless to hold on to it!

How is that fair?!

Truth is, it is not. It’s not fair to those who feel it or those who do not and are confused why some people are still hesitant to come forth. It is not fair to those precious, devoted and essential people who never felt either one because they never had a stay-at-home order apply to them. It is especially not fair to those who are still ill from COVID or lost loved ones to hear about people grieving the loss of working at their kitchen table. Thus, there is a level of self-recrimination that can come with re-emergence stress. “How dare I feel this way now?!” or “Seriously?! I should be happy!”

Feelings simply are, thoughts can defy logic and fairness never has a say in them. Our first step in correcting them is accepting them. Accepting that we are flawed people with hearts that yearn for the norm and minds that crave routine. It’s okay to feel any of the above or a mix of all of it. It does not make you bad, selfish or crazy. It makes you an amazing, adaptable being.

What? Yes. Re-emergence stress can be so strong in some people because they have adapted to the pandemic reality.

It’s been a year full of hardship and challenge, but we overcame, and we adapted. We crafted new lives. Now those lives will change again. Will change. And if we do it right, we will adapt again. How?

We accept our thoughts and feelings, no matter how uncomfortable or illogical they seem. Then we learn from them and chose a path of re-emergence based not on who we were before the pandemic or who we are now, but who we want to be. Then we act on it. ACT, again. The reason why many of our COVID articles are coming up today is simple. We’ve been saying since the pandemic closures that there would be a time when we may look back on this time with surreal longing. That time is coming and by reading these articles and trying the strategies we’ve already been practicing and preparing.


Now What?

We have a chance to do something extraordinary. As we head out of this pandemic, we can change the world. Create a world of love. A world where we are kind to each other. A world were we are kind no matter what class, race, sexual orientation, what religion or lack of or what job we have. A world we don’t judge those at the food bank because that may be us if things were just slightly different. Let love and kindness be our roadmap.

– Johnny Corn,
Comedian and Actor

Once we’ve tackled accepting the re-emergence, accepting our feelings on the topic and decided on who we want to be when we emerge, the rest is managing those thoughts and feelings so that we get there.

At the core, anxiety management is thought management. Yes, there are physiological responses, but they tend to happen after (even milliseconds after) thoughts. Let’s start, then, with thoughts.

Counter Thoughts: Take those anxious thoughts and identify them, then use logic to counter them. “I’m going to get COVID and die!” can become “I have been using precautions to go into the world safely now, I can continue them, and virus levels are lower than ever.” Also, “I’m going to go back to a grueling 9-6:30 and I’ll miss my family!” can become “My family and I will have new schedules to adapt to and we can grow closer supporting each other and valuing time outside of work and school like never before.”

Make a “What If/What Do” List: Anticipatory anxiety is actually a helper. It tries to look ahead to new situations and make you prepared. But, it floods us with endorphins or overstimulates us and we get stuck. Write out those worries on one side of a sheet of paper. That’s your “What If” side. Then, right a simple, logical solution that is one sentence or less. “What if I become emotional at work?” – “Talk to a coworker” or “go to the bathroom and cry it out.”

Use What You Have: If we are anxious about losing the positive parts of our new lifestyle, rather than let our minds run away with those thoughts or feelings we can use this time to start the conversation and get real data. Talk to employers about what the expectations will be, how they will protect employees not just from COVID but from a return of old workplace anxiety, drama, culture or toxicity. One of the biggest slogans of the COVID-19 Pandemic is “We’re in this together.” That doesn’t have to stop and I will take a stand to say it should not. We are still, and always were in this together. We have been given an amazing gift: Perspective. We can use the time prior to full re-emergence not just to reimagine and improve ourselves, but our workplace and our culture. America has proven that we can thrive without the 9-5 so it’s time to take that data and craft a better tomorrow. We banded together and survived something that hundreds of thousands of Americans did not. Shame on us if we don’t at least try.

As we look at the re-emergence, I turn back to the definition; “Coming into sight or prominence once more.” Prominence. Not a return to the past but returning to the pinnacle of life. Yes, it will be uncomfortable and bring with it new thoughts and practices but it need not be bad. It should not. As we manage our re-emergence stress the most important skill is simply to listen to our thoughts and feelings but not let them stop us. Go forth and what we find is that the situation we feared doesn’t even exist. Go forth and we find the anxious feelings fade. Go forth and the grief is replaced with new joy. Go forth because the person we were yesterday has already passed away and the person we are today is the shepherd of who we will become. Go forth into a new world because we deserve it.

Go forth.

ABC News (2021) Tips for managing back-to-work anxiety after working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from: https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/tips-for-managing-back-to-work-anxiety-during-the-pandemic/12967996

Rodriguez, S. (2021) As the pandemic fades, some Americans are anxious about a return to normal. CNBC.com. Retrieved From: https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/as-the-pandemic-fades-some-americans-are-anxious-about-a-return-to-normal/ar-BB1eMGT1?ocid=uxbndlbing6

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