The Reopening Conundrum

Though Long-Awaited, Reopening Causes Anxiety for Many


Sharon Dornberg-Lee

If you feel anxious about going out post-lockdown, you are not alone. It is normal to experience “reopening anxiety.” A recent survey found half the people asked—vaccinated or not—were uneasy about resuming face-to-face interactions.* Besides anxiety, reopening after COVID may also trigger fear, anger at those “doing things differently,” sadness, and grief, as well as eagerness to return to normal. The reopening conundrum is complex, but, fortunately, there are strategies to help reduce this anxiety, and many available resources and services.
Sharon Dornberg-Lee, LCSW, Clinical Supervisor 

Have Those Difficult Conversations

It can be difficult to discuss sensitive topics with peers or family members when there is strong disagreement. It may help to remind yourself that many choices are rooted in common values: even when we come to different conclusions about the best course of action for ourselves and our families, often because we trust different sources of information, we all want our families to be safe. Try to reflect back what you are hearing, even if you don’t agree. Politely and assertively make your needs known, and don’t hesitate to bow out of plans with others if your needs can’t be met. Remember to remain respectful of others even if you disagree with their choices.

Why We’re Anxious

Ambiguity of Guidelines. We all know that guidelines have continued to evolve with new studies and data released nearly every day. We suggest you always follow the science and current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which can be found at: html. When in doubt, always discuss what these guidelines mean for your particular situation with your health care provider.

Unclear Social Expectations. We’re at gatherings and wonder if we have to wear a mask or if we can ask someone if they’re vaccinated, questions we never imagined we’d be faced with asking.

Incomplete Knowledge About COVID-19. It’ a very new disease and there is a lot we still don’t know about it. Fear About Serious Risks to Health. People want to keep their families safe and worry about breakthrough cases or longterm impacts.

Extreme Emotions Tied Up With Masks. There’s a great deal of distrust and anger about the issue, from those who resent having to wear them to those who are anxious about others not wearing them or wearing them improperly.

Strategies for Reducing Anxiety

In general, we recommend that you be aware of your own level of risk tolerance and work within that framework. Use a layered approach to reduce risk (like masking, vaccination, and social distancing). It’s important to focus on what you can control, rather than the behavior of others (which you cannot). Try to put into practice the following:


  1. Communicate. Talk openly about your concerns with family and friends.
  2. Practice Visualization. In a face-to-face encounter: Imagine yourself separated by an invisible safety shield. Imagine “breathing in safety” and “breathing out fear.”
  3. Gradual Exposure Technique. Try one small face-to-face gathering outside before rushing headlong back to your old activities. As comfort increases, slowly add more activities, working from least frightening to those that are more challenging. (Always stay within your own level of risk tolerance and recommended safety guidelines.)
  4. Monitor Your Self-Talk. Try changing extreme thoughts that increase anxiety (“If I go out I will get COVID and end up on a ventilator!”) to more balanced ones (“There is some risk, but since I am vaccinated, it is unlikely that I will get sick.”)
  5. Rely on the Evidence. Information from the CDC, World Health Organization, and reputable news outlets are recommended.
  6. Try Mindfulness and Meditation. (See Resources)


CJE SeniorLife offers counseling services provided by licensed clinical social workers, now available via telehealth and, on a case-by-case basis where needed, with face-to-face appointments following CDC guidelines. These services are covered by Medicare and other insurance. For more information, visit or call 773.508.1000 for appointments.


Mindfulness with Chloe:
Each Friday, Chloe Gremaud, LCSW, leads group mindfulness exercises.

The largest library of guided meditations on earth.

My Life Meditation App:
Check in with how you’re feeling, and try short activities tuned to your emotions.

Institute on Aging Friendship Line: 800.971.0016
A 24-hour warmline for older adults who need support.

JCFS Warmline: 855.275.5237
Monday-Thursday, 9 am to 5 pm and
Friday, 9 am to 4 pm CST.

Illinois Warmline: 866.359.7953, then press 2, then 5
Monday-Friday, 8 am to 5 pm CST.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
800.273.TALK (8255)
When someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call.

NAMI Chicago Helpline: 833.626.4244
Mental health counselors available, operating
Monday–Friday, 9 am to 8 pm, and
Saturday & Sunday, 9 am to 5 pm CST.