Lockdown is finally starting to end.The nation has breathed a slight sigh of relief as the R rate has dropped and we have all been cautiously hopeful as we see members of the public going back to their places of work, tentatively mingling with households in their social bubbles and shops and businesses reopening.
For many people it has been encouraging and comforting to see life moving forward and normality returning. However, for some people, this time is actually increasing their anxiety.
If coming out of lockdown is making you anxious, you are not alone.
Lots of people are feeling anxious about the relieved restrictions, particularly people who struggle with existing anxiety disorders such as myself. It is not surprising that for individuals who already struggle with anxiety, control or even illness-related phobias or fears, the idea of changing a situation that has been put in place to save lives can be daunting.
It is completely understandable, especially given the lack of scientific consensus across the world about how best to “come out” of lockdown, to feel a heightened sense of anxiety at the most recent government announcements – I know I have been feeling it.
Below you’ll find some tips about how to manage these feelings and cope with the lockdown lift in a mentally healthy way:
It’s wonderful that we can see friends, go to parks and events and stand within 1 meter of others, but none of these things are prescriptive. How you behave is still completely up to you. Unless you are in the position where your employer is forcing you to return to your work environment, you are in complete control of how to re-enter society.
So take your time: try relaxing your own restrictions in small steps that make you feel comfortable. Remember too that if you feel overwhelmed, you can always take things slower.
If you are being forced to return to a work environment that you feel puts you in “serious and imminent danger” of the virus, you have the legal right to refuse. Please see further details in this article.
Recognise your limits of your own control
That lack of guarantee can be very scary. Rather than trying to control the uncontrollable, it is much more productive to recognise our own limits.
I’ve spoken to many people who feel very stressed about their elderly parents or grandparents moving around more in society, and feel extra pressure to be even more cautious to make up for it. You might find yourself wishing for the stricter lockdown, because you think your family would be safer then.
The truth is that when we take on these worries, we are taking on responsibility for things outside of our control. Whilst it is true that we all have our part to play in responding to a pandemic situation sensibly, you are not personally responsible for stopping the Coronavirus hurting those you love. This is too much of a burden for anyone to bear.
We must accept that everyone has their own choices to make, and other people’s choices (even the choices of those we love dearly) are not our responsibility. You are only responsible for your own actions.
Build up your tolerance for the “new normal”
Instead of packing it in, however, I have been taking note of the times of day when I feel most secure and comfortable taking walks or shopping in the town, then utilising those times.
I have also gently been building up my tolerance to things I find stressful by focusing on doing things that I really enjoy, and have missed. I love going out for coffee, but the idea of sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop any time soon is overwhelming. However, walking to our local and picking up a socially distanced takeaway seems completely manageable.
At the moment it can seem like we will never be comfortable with going back to our old ways of living; queuing back on back in the post office and cramming into a bar with 20 other people to get a drink on a Friday night, but taking these small steps that feel “safe” to us is a way of ensuring that, when the time comes that it really is safe to do these things again, we are not held back by fear.
Keep the lines of communication open
This has been both wonderful and tiring for everyone, and even if you are slightly relieved with the prospect that a lifted lockdown might mean less virtual communication, it is important to keep talking.
Lockdown lifting does not mean the threat is over. For many people, we will still need that verbal assurance from friends and family that they are safe and well in order to stay mentally well ourselves.
So don’t be ashamed of suggesting that the once a week zoom calls continue, or if a friend suggests that they are all zoomed out and would like to meet physically, try and work it out in a way that feels safe to you.
The important thing is not to let a lift in lockdown reduce your feeling of connectivity to others. If you start to feel more lonely rather than less, you’ll know it’s time to reach out to those you trust around you and share your feelings honestly.
Deal with your feelings, whatever they are, in a positive way
All of these feelings are valid responses to the biggest social shift we have experienced in this country.
However, we need to make sure we are dealing with whatever feelings we feel in positive ways. It can be very tempting to take our grief or anger or sadness to public forums, such as posting on social media or criticising others in public. This rarely ever makes us feel truly better. Often, it just leads to an amplification of our feelings as other people reflect those feelings back at us, making us more angry or sad, or it can lead to conflict, which will then make us feel attacked.
If we can, it is better to express our feelings privately with people who we really trust, who we know will understand what we say in the full context of who we are. It’s also important to maintain healthy pressure relief valves in our daily life so that emotions don’t become bottled up.
Exercise can be a great emotional release, as can laughter or creative outlets. Identify something in your life that helps you process your emotions and make sure you are utilizing it to its full extent.
Just because lockdown is changing, doesn’t mean we will find it easier.
Many of us are feeling a pressure to suddenly “feel normal,” as if seeing our family or being able to go to Nando’s will make all of the upheaval and struggle of the last few months disappear.
It won’t, and it’s okay to feel confused about that. Everything that we have gone through and continue to go through has an implied impact on our mental health, and even when society starts to open up again we will still be feeling the impact of that.
The important thing we must all remember is that we are not alone. Our feelings are valid and perfectly understandable. The truth is, that for most of us “normal” at the moment is actually not feeling normal. And that’s okay.
For more help about coping with post-lockdown anxiety, check out these resources:
About the Author: Emma Hinds
Emma is a writer living and working in Manchester. She is a mental health advocate and has been blogging about mental health for the last ten years. Emma has a history of eating disorders and is currently living with a diagnosis of OCD and chronic depression. She has been working specifically with young people struggling with their mental health for the last four years and is now supporting the Lily Jo Project’s On Track follow up schools programs. You can see Emma’s work and follow her mental health blog here. You can also follow her on socials here: twitter@EmmaLouisePH and instagram@elphreads.