Some dealing with 're-entry anxiety' as COVID restrictions ease, experts say

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- After a year of isolation and strict measures to avoid COVID-19, Philadelphia and the surrounding region are slowly beginning to reopen. Many residents are starting to experience what medical experts are calling "re-entry anxiety."

With more and more people getting vaccinated, many are starting to feel comfortable being out in public places with others.

But there are still many others who don't feel comfortable at all.

"I've seen people literally afraid to leave their house. The one gentleman and his father have not left their house since last March. Not at all," said paramedic Vic Berg.

After months of telling people to stay home to avoid catching the virus, experts at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania say data is showing a significant uptick in anxiety and depression, like an aftershock of the pandemic.

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"Some people have used this mentality that you could never be too safe. And for people with anxiety, that's a really dangerous kind of line of reasoning," said Dr. Thea Gallagher at Penn Medicine's Center.

She says if thoughts of being out in public or back at the office make you uncomfortable, you're probably dealing with re-entry anxiety.

"It's been over a year since you've lived this life so I think that's why it feels challenging. So have patience but keep pushing yourself to do the things that you need to do," said Gallagher.

For some, she recommends taking baby steps.

"Start to think about, 'OK, can I go meet a friend for happy hour outside and then can I go to the park with another friend?'" said Gallagher.

She says navigating back into society after a year of isolation can be challenging, but don't let fear dictate your choices.

"I think we have to have patience with each other as we reenter and readjust to the whole kind of different world," said Dr. Gallagher.

As Berg goes door-to-door delivering vaccines to some who are fearful of going out, he tells them, "You can't sit in here and be scared. We'll get you the vaccine. We'll get you as safe as possible as we can, and let's get the world back to where it should be."

Gallagher says re-entry anxiety is more prevalent than one would think. In more severe cases, she recommends working with a trusted professional to help you tackle your anxiety.

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