Re-entry Shock in a Post-Quarantine World
Updated: Jul 9
You would think that after being quarantined for months and months we’d all be jumping for joy as the restrictions lift, at least that’s how I imagined I’d feel (cause I’m 150% extrovert). Yet I found that because the rules of social engagement have changed, I didn’t feel relieved, I just felt confused! (Do you hug / not hug? Shake hands? Wear masks while driving???)
This is called re-entry shock. It’s where you come back from something unique and discover that your once normal surroundings are now different, or that you’re different.
My husband and I experienced this when we moved to Indonesia, and oddly enough there are many similarities between that experience and of post-quarantine, so I thought I’d share what I've learned from traveling in hopes that it will normalize what you're going through.
When my husband and I first arrived in Gorontalo, we were blown away by the beauty and open demeanor of the Indonesian people. It was truly amazing to see all of the doors open to every single house, not to mention the many smiles we met from strangers. This made our new home feel welcoming and idyllic. This is called the Honeymoon Stage.
If quarantine had a honeymoon stage, it would be called Netflix.
Eventually the “shininess” of anything new wears off, so Peter and I quickly discovered that tropical life brought other things too … mainly, sweltering heat and oversized bugs. We also started missing things from back home (i.e., hot showers, flushable toilets, CHEESE!), and the paparazzi-like attention from strangers started to feel overwhelming. (Have you ever had people take pictures of you while trying to buy peanut butter? It’s not as glamorous as you might think.) This is called the Crisis or Anxiety Stage – it’s when you fully realize that your new environment isn’t changing anytime soon … and you promptly freak out.
If quarantine had a Crisis Stage, it would be called The Toilet Paper Exodus.
Thankfully, crisis doesn’t last forever, so before we knew it, we were ‘recovering‘ from our shock and ‘adjusting’ to our new life overseas. We got used to people following us around and yelling “Hey Mister!” at us, and I gave up explaining why I’m not a Mister and just started smiling for the camera. We also fell in love with all the fresh fish we could buy for less than a dollar!
If quarantine had a Recovery - Adjustment Stage, it would be called Dinner Parties in the Back of Minivans.
Once you reach acceptance, though, it's usually time to head home. So just like we had to return from Indonesia, all of us have had to crawl out of our Quarantine Bubbles. This is where we’re all now, in re-entry shock.
Re-entry follows the same pattern as culture shock (honeymoon – crisis – recovery – acceptance), except it feels weirder because you’re supposed to enjoy being “in the norm” again. Only sometimes those norms have changed, or YOU have, so it all feels awkward.
Insert the post-quarantine elbow bump.
The first time I got one of these I was completely unprepared for it, probably because I went in for a hug and got beaned in the eye instead! hahahahaha
Don’t feel dismayed. There are a few things we CAN do to minimize the stress and awkwardness of re-entry shock, and they are as follows:
1. Give yourself time and space to process.
There’s no need to rush into anything. Tell people you’re pacing yourself. You can always go see “that person” or go to “that store” later. Be easy and gentle on yourself, and also extend this same grace to those who are handling post-quarantine life differently than you are. This is vital!!!!! There’s no “one size fits all” here, so just focus on what works best for you.
2. Eat cheese.
This helps more than you think. Grab a block and have at it.
3. Be intentional.
Reflect on what you might want to keep from #quarantinelife … cause it wasn’t all bad, right?! Strange as it may have been, COVID gave us all a unique chance to reset our “travel backpacks”. Ask yourself what you want to keep / take out / or add back in. Just make sure to choose one new thing about post-quarantine life to add in, cause there are some good things too, like going to get your hair done. (Can I get an amen?!)
4. Eat more cheese.
Maybe even dip stuff in it. Eating your feelings is completely okay during re-entry shock so embrace it!
5. Find a therapist.
For real. Just do it. Mine told me she retired the other day and I promptly cried myself to sleep! Even if you’re not into therapists, this is not the time to be “that guy”. You can be "that guy" later … AFTER we’ve all survived this biz. But we’re not there yet. So find someone you can talk to who is a professional ... and then bring some cheese along with you.
That’s all I got! God speed, and good luck re-entering into this strange new post-quarantine culture.