When it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are often bombarded with multiple headlines that can make us nervous and anxious. Balancing being safe as lockdown restrictions ease with newfound anxiety for going out can be difficult. How can we help each other through the transition into our new ‘normal’?
It is important to recognise the profound psychological and social impact the pandemic has had on multiple groups of the wider population including children, students and health and key workers. Research shows that these groups are now at a greater risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other symptoms of short and long term distress. People are more likely to isolate themselves from others, fearing the impact the virus has, and this has caused long-term stress for many people. This can make adapting from months of isolation to new post-lockdown life difficult.
“After you’ve been inside for a long time, it can feel very strange to go outside […] You perhaps lose your confidence to do things you haven’t had to in a while.”
Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK
A recent survey undertaken by Anxiety UK shows that nearly 37% of people are looking forward to returning to normal life. However, 36% of over 900 respondents said they were content to stay at home and 27% had no strong feeling either way. Of those who were feeling nervous about the lifting of restrictions, 46% cited the pressures of socialising as their biggest concern, while 30% were anxious about going to a busy shopping centre and 23% using public transport.
The results here present a mixed picture when looking at people’s views for a post-lockdown life showing that more people than we may initially think struggle with the idea of a post-lockdown world.
Take It Slow
Nobody said you have to jump neck-deep into post-lockdown life! Take it at your own pace. All we have been told for that last year is to stay home and now the opposite is being encouraged. It can be scary and overwhelming, especially if you are someone who suffers from anxiety or has recently developed anxious symptoms since the outbreak. Try and go out with someone to distract you from anything that’s making you nervous. Maybe begin by avoiding busy areas/ crowds and stay in parks and gardens with lots of space so you can still easily maintain a social distance. Summertime can mean towns and city centres can get busy with children off from school, so take it day by day and do what makes you comfortable!
Connect with Others
One of the most important things you can do for your mental health, throughout and outside of the pandemic, is to stay connected with friends and family. Keeping a support system is vital for anyone, but especially if you are struggling. It can feel like you are the only one struggling with post-lockdown life, but it is far more common than we’d expect. In a recent survey in the UK, it was shown that the majority of those asked were still uncomfortable about the idea of going to a nightclub despite their reopening in England on July 19th and being due to open in Wales and Scotland on the 7th and 9th of August respectively. Although you are likely to see multiple videos and pictures on social media showing fully packed clubs and long lines of eager young people, keep in mind that social media rarely ever depicts the reality of those who are anxious and struggling with their mental health. You don’t need to go out with all your friends to stay connected, but rather, keep them close to you and talk about how you are feeling and take things at your own pace
What the pandemic has really thrown is our sense of routine— the order that runs our lives. With restrictions lifted, you can channel your energy into creating a new and long-term routine for yourself to give the day structure. It can be a good way to slowly get out of the house whilst doing it on your own terms. Routine food shops, going to the gym or the shops for errands, going out for lunch— these can all be ways to ease into post-lockdown life without pressuring yourself.
Managing Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is an overwhelming fear of social situations, and this has intensified for many as we are encouraged to delve into post-lockdown life. After months of staying indoors and government guidance always seeming to change by the day, it is natural that many of us have developed social anxiety to some degree. Having a heightened awareness of physical touch and trying to manage Covid-19 rules with other people can make going out a stressful task. It is perfectly okay to set boundaries with others to ensure peace of mind— communicate if you’d rather not hug or shake hands before you go out to avoid any unwanted awkwardness. Check the venue’s Covid guidelines beforehand to ensure you are comfortable with their procedures; sometimes sitting outside in open-air venues rather than indoors can help with feeling nervous about the spread of the virus.
“The good news is people are resilient [..] I expect that most of the people who are anxious right now will recover in the weeks, perhaps months, after lockdown restrictions have been lifted.”
Dr Steven Taylor, a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of British Columbia, in Canada.
Finally, It’s Not Your Fault
Governments across the world need to be held accountable for often presenting misleading or abruptly changing their Covid-19 guidelines, as the uncertainty can make people even more nervous about going out. Although it can be difficult to manage guidelines, as the pandemic constantly shifts back and forth, know that your anxiety and nerves around lockdown easing are not your fault, but rather just a circumstantial consequence. You don’t need to have a history of mental health issues to justify newfound anxiety going into a post-lockdown world. As we snap in and out of lockdown, it will take a while before we can all adapt, but Dr Taylor, who published The Psychology of Pandemic just before the Covid outbreak in 2019, is confident that the adaptability of human beings will see us through.
All in all, it’s okay to feel anxious and nervous while returning to a new sense of normal. There are so many headlines and news that highlight the continued negative impact the pandemic has on our lives. But here we look to the future and help ease each other into our new ‘normal’. Remember to keep yourself informed of the lockdown rules wherever you are and follow them accordingly so we can see a day where lockdowns are put behind us.
Stay safe and healthy!
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