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  • Melanie Lopes, MFT

How to Prevent Re-Entry Overwhelm & Fatigue

re entry fatigue

As more and more restrictions are lifted, places start re-opening, and the opportunities for more social interactions start to ramp up, you might notice a mix of different, sometimes conflicting, feelings coming up:

  • Relief that things are starting to get back to some sense of “normal”.

  • Excitement because you get to see people you haven’t seen in awhile or do things you’ve missed doing.

  • Frustration because things still aren’t totally back to normal and you’re tired of having to deal with limitations.

  • Nervousness and unease because there’s still some risk around the spread of COVID.

  • Awkwardness and insecurity because it’s been a while since you’ve interacted with new people or groups of people and you feel like your social skills are a little rusty or you’re unsure what the new social etiquettes are.

And whether you are just experiencing one of these feelings or all of them, the transition from being at home and socially distant to this “re-entry” phase can be overwhelming and exhausting.

You might have noticed that there are times when you feel like you just don’t have the same stamina that you used to. You might feel really tired after an outing or a social gathering and you might find yourself moving a lot slower through your to do list than you used to or feeling reluctant to commit to another social event because it sounds too draining and you need more time to rest.

stressed and tired

What makes it worse is that you might start to judge yourself for it:

“What’s wrong with me? How could I possibly be this tired?”

Well, it’s important to remember that your nervous system has most likely been under stress for over a year now. Regardless of your particular circumstances, you’ve had to adjust and adapt to the changes and additional stress that this pandemic has brought for all of our lives – some more than others. Whether it’s the change in your work conditions, change in your home environment, increased fear and anxiety around health and safety, isolation, unexpected losses, or all of the above, there’s a lot that you’ve had to endure and you may be dealing with pandemic fatigue.

And although you might have gotten used to all of the changes to some extent, as we return to the old ways of being, we are also being re-introduced to more of the everyday stressors that we haven’t had to deal with for a while: traffic, parking, juggling new schedules & routines, crowds, lines, etc.

On top of that, there’s the increased social contact and trying to navigate social situations with other people who have been cooped up alone or with their families for far too long.

Suddenly life has gotten much more complicated, with a lot more to adjust to and manage.

It’s a little like dusting off your old running shoes after a year of sitting on the couch and then going for a run around the block – you feel out of shape, out of rhythm, and…you’re tired afterwards.

So what can you do?

Here are a few things to consider as you continue to adjust to re-entry and the “new normal” so that you can limit unnecessary stress, overwhelm, and exhaustion:

Remember self-compassion.

Offer yourself kindness, understanding, and care through this transition and try not to judge yourself harshly if you’re more worn out by the little things or if you’re still not quite feeling ready to dive into a lot of social activity. You’re not the only one! And it’s ok.

Listen to your needs and respect your limits.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or fatigued, it’s ok to take it easy and say no or postpone social engagements. This doesn’t mean completely isolating yourself and avoiding social interaction - social contact is an essential part of health and well-being. It means paying attention to how you’re feeling and not pushing yourself or overdoing it when you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or exhausted.

*Also, remember to respect the changing needs and limits of others too. You might feel disappointed or frustrated when plans change or are cancelled, but holding on to anger and resentment can also be draining.

Start small & pace yourself.

Although you may be eager or feel a pressure to get out there and go, go, go, keep an eye on your schedule and to-do list and watch how much you are committing to. Of course, your schedule and to-do list may be filling up in response to things opening back up and there will be things that you have to do, but it’s important to remember that there are also things that are not urgent and can wait. Pace yourself.

self care

Take care of yourself & plan ahead.

When things start to get busy or stressful, it’s easy to start letting your basic self-care start to slip – it might feel like you don’t have the time or you might feel like you don’t have the energy to do certain things that you know are good for you. This is where a little planning and preparation can really come in handy. Make sure that you are allowing yourself time to meet your basic needs, time for breaks during the day, and time to recharge. And don’t forget to allow some time for things that you enjoy or that bring you a sense of peace or satisfaction.

The main thing to remember is that you can’t expect to snap your fingers and return to your old ways of doing things before the pandemic without a hitch - change is stressful, even if it’s a positive change. And in some areas of your life, you might not want to go back to how you were doing things before. Your needs and desires might have shifted and now is a great time to consider what’s most important to you, what you want to remain the same, and what you want to change, so that you can lay a solid foundation for how you want to move forward.

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