Dinner reservations are gleefully being made again. Long-canceled vacations are being booked. People are coming together again, in some of the ways they used to.
But not everyone is racing back.
Their stories are emerging as the world begins to reopen — people secretly dreading each milestone toward normalcy, envisioning instead anxiety-inducing crowds and awkward catch-up conversations. Even small tasks outside the home — a trip to the grocery store, or returning to the office — can feel overwhelming.
Psychologists call it re-entry fear, and they’re finding it more common as headlines herald the imminent return to post-pandemic life.
“I have embraced and gotten used to this new lifestyle of avoidance that I can’t fathom going back to how it was. I have every intention of continuing to isolate myself,” says Thomas Pietrasz, who lives alone and works from his home in the Chicago suburbs as a content creator. His alcohol and marijuana use also increased during the pandemic.
Pietrasz says his anxiety has grown markedly worse as talk of post-vaccine life grows. He says he got used to “hiding at home and taking advantage of curbside and delivery in order to avoid every situation with people.”
As the world edges back toward some semblance of normal life, many report challenges like Pietrasz’s playing out in their own lives. The time at home — lockdown, dread, fear, isolation — has changed them and made existing worries worse or created new ones entirely.
“It’s been a mix of reactions,” says Amy Cirbus, Director of Clinical Content at Talkspace, an online mental health group with nearly 50,000 current clients. “Some people are very relieved about going back to normal. Others are struggling. Many people are experiencing spikes in anxiety as they feel they aren’t ready for re-entry.”
While some felt restricted by the confinement of home, others found safety, comfort and even enjoyment there, internalizing the isolation into what some psychiatrists consider a dysfunctional baseline of behavior.