My View: Learning to cope with ‘reentry’ anxiety amid pandemic recovery


By Lee Pioske – Contributing writer

Jun 23, 2021, 2:04pm EDT

Anyone who lived through the NASA space flights or has watched the countless movies about the American space program, is aware of the dangers of “atmospheric reentry.” This is when the change in the atmospheric environment causes so much stress that rapid external overheating and ultimately disaster may occur. As we attempt to return to our public lives after over a year of quarantine, social distancing, virtual and remote meetings, and deferred gatherings of friends and family, many are finding the reentry into the atmosphere of more social situations a bit uncomfortable.

In fact, there is a term for it — reentry anxiety — and it is essentially the stress people feel about getting back to life as we previously knew it. For someone who already has anxiety or external stress, like individuals in recovery for addiction, reentry anxiety is a very real thing.

No matter how much we might look forward to it, for a lot of people getting back to the “old normal” isn’t as easy as just showing up and hoping everything falls right back into place. The American Psychiatric Association’s poll, “Stress in America”, reported that nearly 50% of Americans expressed anxiety about returning to in-person interactions.

Personal fears of contracting Covid-19 and concerns about social skills and awkwardness in public situations can instill reentry anxiety. While anyone can be affected, the groups most likely to encounter anxiety are the segments of our population that have been disproportionately affected by Covid, have mental health disorders, or have experienced trauma or loss during the pandemic.

Addiction certainly falls into those high-risk categories. When looking at the issues around recovery and addiction, managing environmental stress is always a goal. After a year of developing coping skills and the comfort that comes with working from home, limited social interaction, and outdoor meetings, going back to old ways increases the potential for relapse among recovering addicts. In addition, the ongoing pandemic of opioid abuse has met little push back and in fact, has grown tremendously during the many months of Covid restrictions.

Individuals can slowly acclimate to more social settings and determine personal boundaries, accepting the need to begin socializing and returning to a more public life. For those in recovery, this is not the time to skip your AA or NA meeting because your life just got a little busier. In fact, this may be the time to double up. In the case of those who encountered their addiction during the pandemic, facing the public may be more than they can handle. Seeking treatment is the most important step that a new or long-term addict can take in moving forward.

As we begin to reenter the social atmosphere, let us do it with care and consideration for the individual life experiences of the last year and the needs of those around us. Looking for and recognizing, the signs of increased stress that our family members and co-workers may be feeling is vital to the successful atmospheric reentry.

Lee Pioske is executive director of Crossroads Inc., which provides substance abuse treatment services in the Valley.

To read the article at the Phoenix Business Journal Online: