We have to go back into the world again. Here are solutions for how to deal with that

Elizabeth Wellington
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA _ Jennifer Merves Robbins never really considered herself an anxious person. She even _ for the most part _ didn’t find it too stressful to shelter-in-place when she started working from home, helping her two kids transition to online school, and cooking dinner every night. She adjusted.

But the idea of transitioning back into society as COVID-19 is still sickening and killing Americans has Robbins wound up tighter than she’s ever been.

“I have no idea what my life will look like,” said Robbins, 49. “Will we have camp? Will I ever work in an office again? Will we ever feel comfortable eating out? Will I ever be comfortable getting into an elevator with people? I’m frightened when I walk through the city and see people not wearing masks. What will this new normal look like?”

As Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware governors slowly start to move toward reopening parts of their states, and we inch toward a future where most businesses can reopen and we can think about seeing people again, we are on high alert worry.

Our anxiety is threefold:

We’re mourning the loss of the our past lives especially the idea of not being able to safely hang out with friends at restaurants, clubs or at concerts.

We have no idea what our future will look like, especially our work places. How will we get there? What will our offices look like? And what happens if we emerge from our carefully constructed bubbles and get sick?

And we’re still scared of getting sick. Front line workers have even more concern: With exposure to more people, they are more likely to be affected.

This can be incredibly hard to do when there are no clear answers, Orbe-Austin said. But we don’t have to go through it alone. Here are some ways to emerge on the other side of this, not completely tranquil, but at least a little calmer.

During our months of sheltering in place, we’ve taken a crash course in staying safe from the virus: wearing masks in public, washing our hands, wiping down counters frequently, refraining from touching our faces. Keep that up, says Linda Copel, psychotherapist and a professor at Villanova University’s nursing college. We should also be sure to continue to socially distance when we can, like opting for online banking and curbside pickups. Drive if you feel more comfortable in your car instead of using public transportation. And if you have to take a bus or train, carry hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes with you.

This will help you find a level of comfort because you are doing your best to keep yourself and your family healthy.

It’s hard, but ignore the person walking toward you in the Walmart without a mask. Instead of dwelling on the next person’s insensitivity, practice gratitude, said Thea Gallagher, an assistant professor at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at Penn Medicine.

When we anticipate the worst-case scenario, it hardly ever happens, said Steven Rosenberg, an Elkins Park-based behavioral therapist. How do we keep these scary thoughts from infiltrating our brains? Block out the negativity. That means cutting down on social media and keep news shows to an hour a day. Watch comedies and classic game shows. Better yet, pick up a book. If it’s impossible to shake your biggest fear, write it down and make a note of everything you are doing to prevent it from happening. Take a few deep breaths.

You have to believe your diligence will pay off.