An expert reveals how to cope with anxiety about reopening after coronavirus crisis

As states continue to reopen following coronavirus-related shutdowns, many are finding they’re not as excited as they expected to be but are instead feeling anxious and conflicted.

Dr. Jen Hartstein, Yahoo Life Mental Health Contributor and a practicing psychologist, says these emotions are more common than you might think and may be caused by a concept called negativity dominance.

“We tend to look at the whole more than we look at the parts. Our brain is automatically wired to look at the negative more strongly than the positive,” says Hartstein. “If we’re looking at the whole we see fear, we see anxiety, we see worry instead of breaking it down to the smaller parts of ‘I might be able to see my family’ or ‘I might be able to go to a store,’ or ‘I might be able to sit at a restaurant.”

She continues, “We want to break it down into smaller pieces, smaller bites, find the positives and see if you can wrap yourselves around them and then the positives build on each other and the negatives slowly go down.”

If you’re finding that the people around you are more comfortable with reopening than you are, Hartstein says you should be clear about your hesitations and make your concerns known to them.

“You have to speak your mind. You have to recognize what your boundaries are, what you’re comfortable with, and you have to let the people around you know that,” she says. “No one can read your mind—we aren’t mind readers, we can’t figure it out for you, and we don’t want there to be conflict and resentment to add to all the other emotions that are running around already.”

Recent news of protests across the country has also made many feel more apprehensive about reopening, which Hartstein says is also normal.

“I believe that one of the best ways to handle that is to get educated and to be able to be an activist in whatever way you can be,” she says. “Maybe you aren’t going to protest but you can support your friends who are protesting. Maybe you can donate money, maybe you can create a sign, maybe you can call a senator – it doesn’t matter – but some way to give back helps you feel more in control of the emotions when things feel so out of control.”

Talking to friends and loved ones can be helpful, but speaking with a mental health professional is a great way to learn how to cope with complicated emotions.

“In this time when we’re feeling really unsettled it may be the most important time to reach out for support,” says Hartstein.

“You can look at places like Talkspace. Even clinics that might be closed for in-person visits will be open for telehealth visits, so don’t be afraid to reach out to those either. If you want to look for specific psychologists, psychologytoday.com has great resources of people in your area,” she suggests.

Video Transcript

JEN HARTSTEIN: Many of us are very excited about the idea that things are going to be reopening. And at the same time, there's an anxiety that's present because we're not really sure what to expect. So today we're going to talk about what you can do, how to think about it, and how to go about being comfortable in the reopening process.

There's a very interesting phenomenon happening as we start to reopen, and it's called the negativity dominance. And what that means is we tend to look at the whole more than we look at the parts, and our brain is automatically wired to look at the negative more strongly than the positive. So if we're looking at the whole, we see fear. We see anxiety. We see worry instead of breaking it down to the smaller parts of I might be able to see my family or I might be able to go to a store or I might be able to sit in a restaurant. So the little pieces might be positive, but when put together, the negative just outweighs them.

So we want to break it down. Break it down into smaller pieces, smaller bites. Find the positives, and see if you can wrap yourselves around them. And then the positives build on each other, and the negatives slowly goes down.

If people in your life are ready to kind of get back to normal before you are, you have to speak your mind. You have to recognize what your boundaries are, what you're comfortable with, and you have to let the people around you know that. No one can read your mind. We aren't mind readers. We can't figure it out for you, and we don't want there to be conflict and resentment to add to all of the other emotions that are running around already.

So if you're not feeling comfortable, talk to the person calmly, politely, directly. Ask for what you need. Have a negotiation, and see where it takes you.

In addition to coronavirus, we're dealing with a ton of civil unrest that is really just another layer of anxiety for the country. And I believe one of the best ways to handle that is to get educated and to be able to be an activist in whatever way you can be. Maybe you aren't going to protest, but you can support your friends who are protesting. Maybe you can donate money. Maybe you can create a sign. Maybe you can call a senator. It doesn't matter, but some way to give back helps you feel more in control of the emotions when things feel so out of control.

In this time where we're feeling really unsettled, it may be the most important time to reach out for support. So start with friends and family. That's a great place to start. Speak openly with the people you trust. You can look at places like Talkspace. Even clinics that might be closed for in-person visits will be open for telehealth visits, so don't be afraid to reach out to those either. And if you want to look for specific psychologists, psychologytoday.com has great resources of people in your area.

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