Connecting After Covid: Nine Ways to Ease Reentry Anxiety

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I did something we haven’t done for more than a year. We drove to one of our favorite places, a harbor in Ventura, CA. The ocean is directly across the street, so we love to walk along the shore after spending time at the harbor.

First stop was a casual fish restaurant, Andria’s Seafood. We sat on the patio savoring every bite of fish and chips as it melted in our mouths. After a leisurely dinner, we took a stroll, basking in the activity and vitality of the area. Outdoor music at one of the restaurants helped set the vibrant, fun mood. People dined outside, laughing and chatting. The line for the ice cream shop was really long. We hadn’t seen it like that since two summers ago.

It was all so… wonderfully NORMAL. Even with masks on. I could see joy in peoples’ eyes, the genuine happiness of being out together. Enjoying life. Getting back to the things we love.

Me with those delicious fish and chips!

Like millions of others during the pandemic, I desperately missed being with people. Video chats are great and I was so thankful for the technology, but it’s just not the same as an in-person human connection. I’ve missed seeing smiles, giving and receiving great big hugs.

This past month I’ve been taking advantage of the loosened restrictions, enjoying coffee and dinner dates with friends and family. There’s nothing more important to me than connecting and nurturing those relationships. One lunch with a close friend was three hours long! I hadn’t seen her since Thanksgiving 2019.

But there’s a flip side to all of this.

I don’t like to admit this… but returning to life as it was pre-COVID-19 brings me anxiety. I wish I could say I was simply excited. I like to think of myself as a people-person, often up for going places, experiencing new adventures. In reality, I’m not super outgoing or adventurous. I’m more of a homebody, most comfortable in my own surroundings.

And what about meeting with friends and family I haven’t seen in more than a year? Will it feel like it used to be, pre-pandemic? Or will it be filled with tension and disagreements? With such extreme political division, racial strife and injustice in 2020, this is a huge worry. Even though we may be on different political spectrums, can we still get along? What about the issue of vaccination? Masks? Can we get together and agree to disagree? Will we be able to stay away from touchy subjects?

Talk about anxiety.

This past year, we’ve had to adhere to strict boundaries and have become somewhat conditioned not to go anywhere or gather in large crowds. To wear a mask, wash hands often, use lots of hand disinfectant. Keep socially distant. Quarantine. Birthday parties were replaced with drive-by celebrations. No usual holiday gatherings, dinners, or any type of social meetings. No travel. No hair appointments, routine doctor and dentist visits, book club wine nights, writer’s group, etc.

Even if I wanted to do these things, I couldn’t.

And sometimes–this brought a sense of relief. I wasn’t expected or obligated to participate in any of these activities. In a way, I felt freer with zero pressure to keep up a busy schedule. For me, that equals less stress.

I love being home with my husband and our pup Duke. Our daughters have been working remotely, so they’re able to stay with us for periods of time, which makes my heart so happy. We’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to be together, knowing this time was a mixed blessing and wouldn’t last forever.

My definition of family is a group of people wh make you feel at homw aand are their when you need them most, they are the people who even though they do not have time they will make time for you.

My daughters have gotten used to working from home, managing their busy schedules with countless Zoom calls and virtual meetings. They’ve enjoyed not waking up super early for the hour-long, traffic-filled commute to their offices. Or getting all dressed up for the work day. How will they feel going back? Excited? Stressed out? And what about kids, parents, and teachers who have struggled to navigate online learning. How will it be to return to school full time in person? Exciting? Yes. But it can also be an anxious time, consumed with apprehension and worry.

While it was really hard adjusting to the boundaries and restrictions, removing them can cause stress. There’s actually a term for it:

Reentry Anxiety.

As someone recovered from panic disorder and living with generalized anxiety, I’m definitely feeling reentry anxiety. Is it strange that I’ll miss the simpler days?

Note: I’m having such conflicting thoughts right now, it’s hard to put into words. Guilt. How could I possibly miss life during the pandemic? It was truly awful. It felt surreal. Extremely scary, so very sad, uncertain, overwhelming, horrible. Please know I’m often thinking of the 580-thousand plus souls who lost their lives due to this terrifying disease. So many families have been affected.

I’ve been wondering how to ease into this new normal, post-pandemic life with the least amount of anxiety possible. Here are some ways:

  1. Take it slow. Don’t book a full schedule. At first, limit social activities to once a week.
  2. Set limits on the length of time of activity.
  3. Set limits on what is comfortable in regards to the amount of people at the gathering, if it’s outside, if masks are required. For me, I’m not yet okay going to a concert or a crowded movie theater.
  4. Make a list of things to do now that restrictions are lifted. For me, that’s travel locally, spend time with friends, make a hair appointment and doctor appointments I’ve put off for too long.
  5. Don’t judge yourself. Be compassionate. There’s a whole range of emotions you can have, which is normal. You can be excited, scared, happy, guilty, stressed–all at the same time.
  6. Accept that life may never be the same as it was before the pandemic. This could be a job, a relationship, your routine. Priorities may have switched.
  7. Get out for fresh air. Exercise. I love to walk in the mountains near my home.
  8. Practice deep breathing. Say a mantra while slowly inhaling and exhaling. “Life is good.” “This will pass.” “I am enough.”
  9. Remind yourself that just because you CAN doesn’t mean you HAVE to.

Like everyone else, I never dreamed I’d ever experience living through a global pandemic. It was life-changing. Even though reentry to this new phase of post-lockdown can be filled with anxiety, it’s also an exciting and hopeful time.

I’m already looking forward to a huge family gathering for Thanksgiving.

We ALL Have Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It

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It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and tomorrow, October 10, is World Mental Health Day.

So let’s talk about it!

Yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to a group of elementary, middle school, and high school counselors about mental illness. I’m a presenter for Ending the Silence, a mental health awareness program by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

An area we focused on is the importance of awareness not only among students, but parents and school staff as well. It takes a village. The mental health conversation must be open.

One of the middle school counselors told me something that at first, surprised me. She said the number of students she sees for social and emotional issues (anxiety, depression, etc.) FAR surpass those she counsels for academic reasons. Years ago, it was the exact opposite. And this is middle grade.

I suppose this really isn’t so surprising. It seems as if each generation is more stressed than the previous one. Millennials are known as the anxious generation. Gen Z (ages 15-21) has reported the worst mental health of any generation, according to the APA. Some of the reasons? Social media, gun violence, political climate, immigration, sexual harassment.

I’m passionate about spreading awareness to young people. The more that people talk about mental illness, the weaker the stigma is. The hope is that stigma will lessen with each future generation.

May is Mental Health Awareness month! Let’s all reduce the stigma of anxiety disorders! How? By talking about yours and not being scared to get or ask for help! We are so passionate about the subject that we have a FEARLESS collection of treasures that GiveBack to a local organization helping people with anxiety disorders!

Adolescents need to know they are not alone, that others feel the same pressures. That it’s okay to admit they’re not okay, and it’s absolutely fine (and healthy) to talk about it. They need to know there’s medical help available. The sooner they get help, the better.

When I speak to students during Ending the Silence, we discuss the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice the symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders, and suicide.

Suicide is the focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organization:

Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide.

The conversation on mental health and mental illness needs to be open. Talk about it. Share. Know that you are NOT alone. There is help available. There is hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Lifeline at (800)273-8255. Or text HOME to 741741.

Speak out. Together, we can end stigma.

What I Would Tell My Younger Self About Mental Health

The Child Mind Institute has an awesome campaign that I love to follow. It’s promoted in May for Mental Health Awareness Month.

#MyYoungerSelf offers inspiring messages of hope. Celebrities, athletes, business people, and social influencers give short videos about their struggles, and what they would tell themselves as a child. They’re super open about their own journeys and stress that if you’re suffering from a mental illness, you are not alone. It’s okay.

Emma Stone speaks about her anxiety and panic disorder, Mayim Bialik talks about depression, Michael Phelps about ADHD, Barbara Corcoran about dyslexia, and so many more.

Today I watched a video from Alex Boniello, a Broadway actor, whose anxiety began in high school. He was in the cafeteria when he experienced such frightening symptoms, he thought he was having a heart attack. He had no idea it was anxiety and panic attacks.

This got me thinking… I totally relate to what Alex says. My panic attacks started around age 10. I didn’t know what was going on, why I had such frightening feelings. I was embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. Now I know that stigma and shame kept me from saying anything. I finally got medical help in my early 30s for panic disorder.

That’s why I speak openly about mental health. I want to encourage people to talk about it, to reach out for help.

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So, what would I tell my younger self?

Jenny, I know you’re scared and worried there’s something really, really wrong with you. You’re exhausted from keeping it a secret. You think no one else in this entire world could possibly understand what you’re going through. But millions of other people do understand! Because they’re going through the same thing.

The symptoms are terrifying, but you won’t die from them. Those horrible physical sensations and strange thoughts, like you’re living in a fog or dream, actually have a name: Anxiety and panic attacks. Panic disorder. You are not imagining it. It’s a real illness.

And something else… there is treatment, you don’t have to do this alone. There’s no magic cure, it’s not going to simply go away. You’ll always have to manage it, but you’ll feel a ton better than you do now. The road to recovery isn’t easy, but you’re going to do great.

I know you’re nervous about your friends finding out and you don’t want them to think you’re weird or treat you differently. They won’t. Having panic disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Millions and millions of people struggle with their mental health. Talk about it and get help — the sooner the better.

Don’t ever forget, you are NOT alone.

Courtesy of The Child Mind Institute

Spreading Mental Health Awareness: One Teen at a Time

some things take time

I wish I would’ve known about mental health conditions when I was a teenager. If I had, I may have told someone about my frightening and strange panic attack symptoms. I could’ve received medical help much earlier than I did.

But I was embarrassed and didn’t want to be different. To me, it wasn’t an option to tell anyone. I dealt with it in silence for 20 years.

That’s the main reason I’m so passionate about speaking to youth about mental health. I want them to know that it’s okay not to be okay. Mental illness doesn’t mean you’re weak. You shouldn’t feel ashamed. It isn’t anyone’s fault. There is help available. You are not alone.

I volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as a speaker for “Ending the Silence,” an in-school mental health awareness program. Yesterday I presented to about 70 high school seniors.

During the presentations, my co-presenter and I explain the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk openly about anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, bipolar, eating disorders, and suicide.

Yesterday I told the teens that when my doctor first diagnosed me with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I was actually happy. Not happy that I had it, but relieved that I finally knew what it was.

There’s an actual name for my terrifying symptoms!? Other people feel like this? (Yes, millions!) And there’s treatment for me? (YES!!)

It felt like I was validated. Those awful panic sensations I’d hidden for so long were REAL. I had a disorder in the brain and needed treatment. It wasn’t possible for me to “get over it” or “just calm down,”  phrases I often reprimanded myself with.

That was the first step in my recovery.

Have patience with yourself. No one is perfect!

When I present “Ending the Silence,” I keep in mind that I never know who I’m going to reach. But there are kids who need to be hearing what I have to say.

Yesterday after the presentation, several teens came up to my co-presenter and me. One student said her younger brother attempted suicide last year and she’s having a hard time with it. Another girl said her boyfriend gets panic attacks and she wants to know how to help him. She said his family doesn’t want to admit he has a mental health condition. The teens thanked us for listening and giving our input. Even though they still didn’t have a clear-cut path to fix their problems, they said it felt good to let it out and talk to someone who understands.

Which brings me back to the point… you never know what people are going through.

When I speak to the students and look out into the sea of faces, I often wonder what they’re thinking. And who I’m reaching that day. I’ll never really know.

But all I can do is keep trying.

End the Silence.

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers - Buddha Doodles

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When Stigma Kept Me Quiet

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I’m grateful now for something I didn’t think was possible years ago, when I was first diagnosed with panic disorder and agoraphobia — People are talking about mental illness.

Stigma is still strong, but it’s beginning to lessen. The conversation is open. Nearly every day, I hear someone speak out. Often there are news stories focused on mental health. Actors, singers, athletes, and famous people publicly share their stories.

People are acknowledging that mental illness is a real medical illness that should not be ignored.

Schools are starting to offer courses in mental health. Teens are learning about mental illness through programs such as Ending the Silence, developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Thousands of mental health organizations around the world have resources available to help those affected.

Things have definitely changed since I was a young girl, when I experienced confusing and frightening symptoms, which I kept secret. I knew my problem wasn’t normal and didn’t think anyone would ever understand. I didn’t dare speak up, in fear of being ridiculed.

It took me twenty years of suffering before I received medical help.

I’m not the only one who has waited so long. NAMI says that people who have a mental health condition typically wait eight to ten years after the first warning signs appear to get help. The main reason?


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Most of the time, I was fine. I graduated from college, got married, and had two baby girls. But by my early 30s, my panic attacks became more frequent and more severe.

I was angry with myself because I couldn’t stop the symptoms. My internal monologue wasn’t very kind:

This is stupid. I worry too much. No one else feels this way.

What’s wrong with me? 

Maybe it shouldn’t bother me when my heart beats too fast, and I get lightheaded and dizzy. It’s just how I am. So what if I feel sweaty and shaky, and start to black out? I need to be tougher when I think I’m going to faint. I have to calm down when I feel like running out of the place where I’m panicking.

Who does that? Get over it.

It’s the dumbest thing ever that I don’t want to drive because I’m scared of feeling panicky. People get annoyed when they’re stuck in traffic, but their hearts don’t pound and they don’t need to pull over to get hold of themselves.

And when I feel disoriented? That’s the worst. It’s like I’m living in a dream and things aren’t real, like an out of body experience. That’s creepy. I can’t let myself think that way. This is absolutely ridiculous. I’m so weird.

I should be able to stop it. Just STOP it.

No matter what I do, I can’t let anyone know. They’ll think I’m strange. I doubt a doctor would know how to help. Maybe I have a brain tumor. I don’t want to scare my family.

Whatever. I’m fine…


When I look back on how I used to talk to myself, it makes me sad. I was sick and needed help.

Growing up, I’d never heard anyone talk about mental illness. I had no idea my symptoms actually had a name: panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder. I couldn’t believe it when my doctor told me that millions of other people suffer from it too.

And all that time, I thought I was alone.


I was shocked when my doctor said that medication could help me. I was even more amazed when the antidepressant worked.

When my daughter Talee was 10 years old, she started to show signs of panic attacks. It broke my heart to know that she had to deal with the same terrifying symptoms that I’d had.

Even though I’d been through it myself and knew that many people had anxiety, I still felt the stigma. I didn’t want Talee’s teacher or the other parents to know my daughter had a mental health issue. I didn’t want her labeled.

But I was NOT going to let my sweet girl suffer in silence and secrecy, as I’d had. I pushed the stigma aside with all my might, and reached out for medical help right away.

Thankfully, both Talee and I have recovered. And now, I speak out to reassure people that there is help available and they are not alone.

The conversation must continue. The more that people talk about mental health and mental illness, the less taboo it will be for future generations. Let’s end the stigma.

There is hope.


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What I Never Expected When I Watched the VMAs

Sunday night my husband, daughter, and I tuned in to MTV’s Video Music Awards. It was fun to watch Katy Perry, Pink, Demi Lovato, and Miley Cyrus perform. I love to see what everyone is  wearing and their hair and makeup.

Later in the show, I didn’t expect it to take a serious and emotional turn — advocating for mental health awareness.

I never thought the VMAs would take my breath away.

It started when Kesha spoke. She said, “Whatever you are going through, however dark it may seem, there is an undeniable truth and strength in the fact that you are not alone. We all have struggles, and as long as you never give up on yourself, light will break through the darkness.”

Then she introduced a rapper named Logic. I have to admit, I didn’t know of him, but of course my 22-year-old daughter did. Logic was joined by singers Alessia Cara and Khalid.

The song is titled “1-800-273-8255.” The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The stage was covered with the phone number. Logic sang his heart-wrenching lyrics with so much intensity, I was in awe. So were many others. Cameras scanned the crowd, and showed people tearing up as they watched and listened.

That wasn’t all.

Dozens of suicide attempt survivors went onstage. They wore t-shirts that had the suicide hotline number on the front. On the back, the shirts read, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.”

One of the survivors broke down and cried as she heard the powerful lyrics:

I know where you been, where you are, where you goin’

I know you’re the reason I believe in life

What’s the day without a little night?

I’m just tryna shed a little light

It can be hard

It can be so hard

But you gotta live right now

You got everything to give right now

The message of hope and the importance of reaching out for help was heard by millions of people around the world.  Another step toward ending the stigma.

I want you to be alive

You don’t gotta die today

You are not alone

I was inspired by Logic’s speech after his performance:

“I just want to take a moment right now and thank you all so much for giving me a platform to talk about something that mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about,” he said. “Mental health, anxiety, suicide, depression and so much more that I talk about on this album.”

MTV released a statement that said Logic’s passionate performance “helped drive a 50% spike in call volume to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the hours following the show.”

Thank you, Logic. Thank you for speaking out.

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No Words

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*Possible trigger warning*

My heart is heavy and I can’t get something out of my mind.

My daughter Talee called me on her lunch break today. “Mom, remember Jason Burns?” (not his real name)

“Hm. I can’t picture him.”

“Mom, you have to remember him. He’s a year younger than me. He has older twin sisters that are Mackenzie’s age. A couple years ago he tried to kill himself by jumping off a two-story building.”

It felt like my heart dropped. I remembered that, but I still couldn’t place him. His name sounded so familiar. He must be 21 years old.

Talee continued. “He shot himself yesterday. He died.”

Oh my God.

Talee told me Jason was at home when it happened. “His mom was downstairs and heard a gun shot. She ran upstairs and found him.”

After Talee hung up, I was numb. My husband and I were out checking on our business and I was going through the motions but my mind was on Jason and his family.

I kept thinking his last name sounded familiar. Why? I must know them. Think.

Then it hit me.

Jason and his twin sisters went through school with my daughters. The twins were in Mackenzie’s religion class in high school. I could picture them clearly.

And the mom. I knew her. Madelyn. I was in a book club with Madelyn (not her real name) for several years and always thought she was so nice. We lost touch throughout the years.

This hits so close to home.

I can’t imagine the pain Jason’s mother and the entire family is going through. This tragedy is going to change all of their lives. I’m terribly sad for Jason. His young life ended much too soon. I have no idea the depression, despair, and hopelessness that he must have been living with.

I’m praying for Jason, his mom, and family. I don’t know what else to do.

I have no words.

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