Are you suffering with post-lockdown anxiety?

While plenty of people have been counting down the days to the end of lockdown, and the chance to enjoy a little more freedom, many of us have been plagued with a sense of post-lockdown anxiety. Feeling anxious about socialising, nervous of leaving the safety of our bubble at home, and daunted at the prospect of returning to the workplace.

When you think about it, we’ve been living in a new world that we’ve created as a means to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from COVID-19.

Our whole rhythm has changed. We’ve been working from home, connecting with friends online rather than in person, and it’s not been possible to enjoy activities we previously took for granted: going to the gym, meeting a friend for coffee or taking a trip to the cinema.

Why are we feeling anxious about the end of lockdown?

For months, we’ve been conditioned to fear other people. We’ve been told that doing so will help to keep us and others safe. At the same time, we’ve had to manage a huge number of stressors that make us feel anxious: threats to our health, financial security, loved ones dying. All of this has taken a toll.

As we emerge, we find ourselves in this grey area between lockdown and freedom. Some might say it’s easier to either be locked down or let out. This mid-ground is difficult to navigate, and the consequences could be dire if you get it wrong.

We’ve adapted and created new habits, some of which we may be reluctant to let go of, for example, having the time to invest in self-care, taking a moment to connect with family and enjoying new hobbies.

At first it was hard, but we got through it, and we now face the adjustment to post-lockdown life, which looks very different to life as we knew it, before the pandemic.

Socialising post-lockdown

Your friends are booking up restaurants and bars at a rate of knots, but do you feel ready to go out? You may worry about being left behind if you don’t go, or perhaps start to question your friendships when people have different values to you.

Then there’s the question of boundaries. Some people are full-on French kissing, while others haven’t had a cuddle, and some have had to shield completely. We’re all negotiating our boundaries again. It would be anarchy if we didn’t follow the rules, but we also just want to be normal – we have this competing value system to figure out.

And what will you talk about if you meet up? There’s the pressure to start communicating again when a lot of us still feel quite down. Ordinarily, we’d catch up on the good stuff, but after the year we’ve had, there’s likely to be grief and loss – of jobs and loved ones – and the stress of meeting rent or mortgage payments, caring for loved ones and the uncertainty over our future.

Getting back to work after lockdown

Let’s be honest, have you enjoyed not commuting to work? Sleeping in a little longer in the mornings and not rushing so much? As I mentioned earlier, there are some changes we don’t want to lose.

Returning to the workplace after months at home can also make us feel vulnerable. Some people have turned to using food and alcohol more frequently as a way of soothing and comforting themselves over the past year, and consequently, they may have gained some weight. While this is perfectly normal (read more about that here), many now feel self-conscious about being seen again.

In a way, we’ve forgotten how to physically be with people, as so many of our interactions in recent months have been via a screen. We have to relearn the normal rules of engagement.

It’s a lot to deal with. But we’re here to help you through this transitional process. Here, you’ll find my 5-point plan to help cope with post-lockdown anxiety:

  1. Prepare for the road ahead

Think of the coping strategies that have helped you before and make sure they’re in your toolbox.

This might be things such as: meditation, breathing techniques, a better sleep schedule, better nutrition, ensuring you get fresh air and exercise regularly, and maintaining social connections with people.

Remember my free 10-Point Positivity Plan? It contains 10 focus areas that are scientifically proven to make us feel better, happier and more able to cope with anxiety-making situations. You can get your copy here to help build your toolbox.

  1. Plan your journey

Think about all of things you would like to do again. Map in some things along the way, whether it’s a daily ritual you’ll look forward to, or a treat in a few weeks’ time, for example, getting your nails done, or going to the movies. Perhaps you could plan a trip somewhere when it’s safe to do so.

Plans create hope; making sure there are some nice things on the horizon. This third lockdown has been long, shutting down the possibility of doing so much, making us feel low. Now we have the option to focus on things that will bring us joy.

  1. Set your own pace

The best advice is to take it slowly and go at your own pace.

Remember those friends we spoke about who can’t wait to get back to the pub? That’s ok. But if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, that’s also ok. You can say no – don’t push yourself to attend activities you just don’t feel comfortable doing just yet. Change is stressful and it is possible to burn out doing too much too soon.

If you’re nervous about the daily commute to work, consider taking the tube at a quieter time to allow yourself to reintegrate slowly. If you’ve been shielding, you might feel anxious about leaving the house, so start with a short walk each day and gradually build up the time you’re out for.

The more you can expose yourself to the things causing you fear or post-lockdown anxiety, the more familiar they’ll become, and over time, you’ll be able to expand what feels safe and comfortable.

  1. Steer carefully

Government guidance and advice changes often, and sometimes following the news too closely can be a bad thing. Only get your news from a reliable place and don’t be pulled into the scary news headlines – they’re designed to shock us.

Our new normal is about being flexible and adjusting to uncertainty. Limit how far ahead you plan – perhaps schedule things week-to-week, as opposed to months in advance.

We must also find a balance between being responsible but enjoying the freedom we’ve been given. Create a routine that is realistic for you and set out intentions for each day that are achievable.

  1. Expect a few diversions

While life is slowly getting back to normal, it may be a different normal to what we knew before, and the future is uncertain. That’s a reality.

Acknowledge how you’re feeling and write it down. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s hard to make sense of all the thoughts swirling in your head. Getting your thoughts on paper can help you feel more in control and at ease.

It’s normal to feel a little scared right now, post-lockdown anxiety is normal, but if you talk about it, you’ll find that people relate – others may be feeling the same. You are not alone.

We’re all going to navigate this journey at different speeds. However, if post-lockdown anxiety is impairing your ability to function on a daily basis, affecting your work and your relationships, for example, please get in touch. We can help.

Take care and stay safe,

Dr Courtney

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