A Second Wind: Venturing out … again

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By Mary Petersen

Signal Staff Writer

Now that restrictions are easing nationwide, Americans are facing decisions about how they will re-enter public spaces and to what degree they will engage in social events. This is a particularly challenging decision for older Americans, especially when statistics show that people 65 and older are likely to face more serious Covid-19 symptoms and account for the greatest number of Covid-19 deaths in America. 

After following the recommendations of the CDC for months, we are now permitted to return to restaurants, gyms and hair salons in our communities. For many people this does not sound liberating.

Granted, being sequestered at home wasn’t always pleasant. It caused many older adults to feel depressed, isolated and fearful. But re-entering society can be equally as scary. Before this pandemic, we generally took for granted that nothing would happen to us if we went out into the world. The coronavirus changed that.

In response to re-entering society, many people are facing what’s referred to as “re-entry anxiety.”

According to psychologist Marc Hekster of The Summit Clinic in London, this is “the fear of the unknown and the loss of a period of safety created by the stay-at-home restrictions.”

He says that being sequestered created an artificial sense of security about the world. It protected us from the virus and from other issues we faced in the world. Now going out into the world may not feel as safe. 

Although returning to the familiar activities we once engaged in may be accompanied by nervousness, there are important reasons to venture out. Going to overdue dental appointments and postponed medical check-ups are necessary for maintaining good health. 

With facilities and individuals adhering to safety precautions, the risk is worth the benefit. Going outside for a walk in the sun and fresh air is a low risk activity, and the benefits to heart, lungs, muscles and mental state are worth it.

Meeting a friend for coffee can be emotionally stabilizing. Isolation and depression pose far greater health risks than responsibly returning to social groups according to Professor Ian Hickie, co-director of the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney.

People have to determine when and how they will reintegrate themselves into life outside the home. Older Americans comprise a diverse group with varied health conditions. Each person has to weigh the risks and benefits, knowing that there will always be some risk in populated environments until a vaccine is discovered. 

I don’t know when we will get back to normal, certainly not in the foreseeable future, so we need to adjust to life as it is now. We can’t control factors in the external world, but we can decide how we will experience them. Despite the traumatic effects that the coronavirus has had on us, it’s valuable to responsibly re-enter human circulation.

Our mental health is better when we are socially connected. Especially if anxiety, and not health conditions, is causing us to remain sequestered, it may be that slowly moving into outside life is the way to overcome that anxiety.

Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, 30-year SCV resident and two-time breast cancer survivor. 

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