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For many of us, Covid-19 lockdown rules in the UK have been changing all too frequently, and it’s often been difficult to keep up with what we can and can’t do. However, as lockdown restrictions have recently been easing significantly, there is a sense of freedom building amongst us. There is talk of meeting friends for drinks, dining in our favourite restaurants again, travelling abroad on holiday and celebrating important life events with groups of people.
However, while for some this has been a long-awaited relief, others are experiencing signs and symptoms of anxiety. Many are going through what is known as re-entry syndrome or post-lockdown anxiety fuelled by worry about what fewer restrictions might mean for their health and wellbeing. In this blog, we’ll discuss how common post-lockdown anxiety is and how to manage your worries with the easing of restrictions.
You might be feeling confused about why the easing of lockdown is causing you stress and anxiety, but these feelings are more common than you might think. In a recent survey, less than 40% of people said they were actively looking forward to the return of normal life. The key concerns that came up in the survey included the pressure of socialisation, busy public spaces such as shopping centres and using public transport – we can call this re-entry syndrome.
Re-entry syndrome is when psychological distress is triggered by a drastic change in one’s life. The concept dates back to the early 60’s, when two psychologists John and Jeanne Gullahorn observed that after extended periods of travel, it was common for people to struggle to readjust to life that was once familiar. This was particularly true for those who had experienced some kind of trauma. Until recently, it was thought that this syndrome mostly affected Arctic explorers, people leaving prisons and soldiers returning home. So, why might some people experience re-entry syndrome post-lockdown? Covid-19 has endangered human life, and life as we used to know it was Covid’s breeding ground. Inevitably, resuming that once-familiar life brings about uncertainty and a sense of danger, and anxiety is a natural response to such a threat.
There are also those who suffered from anxiety before the pandemic began, and so experienced the lockdown to be a welcome break from the once familiar world that created their anxiety. Therefore, the prospect of welcoming that world again may feel very frightening.
Whatever it is you’re concerned about, it’s important to remember that your feelings are completely valid, and that it isn’t necessary for you to push yourself back into normal life straight away. While your friends and loved ones may be encouraging you to join them in social activities, you should ultimately decide whether and when you’re ready to return to this way of living – this brings us to our tips on managing your post-lockdown anxiety.
There are no hard and fast rules for managing your anxieties. ‘Managing’ really comes down to understanding your own emotions and reacting accordingly. However, there are a few things you can start doing that may impact how much these anxieties affect your everyday life.
Start with activities that feel the least anxiety-provoking, as opposed to suddenly re-immersing yourself into that once familiar way of living. Exposing yourself gradually to a preferred activity is an evidence-based approach taken by many therapies to treat anxiety. Try not to compare yourself to others, be kind to yourself and take the time that you need. We all work at different paces; there is no one pace that works for everyone.
It may feel difficult to start talking about how you are feeling, but many people find that sharing with someone they trust can feel like a burden halved. Let others support you, just as you would support them. It is unlikely that you are the only person feeling this way. Opening up to someone might even relieve them and allow them to open up with you, fostering closer relationships with people you care about.
Remember to keep using technology to connect with others – not all contact needs to resume face-to-face.
Whether you’re experiencing anxiety or not, taking care of yourself will have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing. There are lots of things you can work on in your day-to-day life that will help you manage your anxiety. How well rested, exercised and fed your body is will help determine how well you cope with anxiety. Make a start by doing some of the following:
Having regular social contact plays an important role in your overall wellbeing. This does not mean you need to force yourself back into face-to-face contact if you are not ready, but remember to continue to use virtual contact. It’s okay to continue to connect with your friends and family via video calls, text messages, social media, and online games if that is where you feel most comfortable.
Often, we can spend much of the day in our heads, worrying about the future. Ask yourself: what is my mind telling me? Is it a hypothetical problem that I am trying to solve or a current problem that I can do something about? If it is a problem that hasn’t yet occurred then it is hypothetical, it may never happen and you cannot solve it until it does. Re-focus your attention and bring yourself to the present.
Take a few minutes to be mindful; connect yourself with the present moment and what is actually happening right now. Think about what your senses are experiencing in this moment – name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Mindfulness comes in lots of different forms and is practiced all over the world, and there is strong supporting evidence to show its effectiveness on emotional wellbeing.
Worrying about easing out of lockdown is certainly not unusual, and luckily schools and workplaces are becoming increasingly aware of the impact these sudden changes can have on people’s mental health. Remind yourself, it’s okay to feel this way – it isn’t unusual, and there are likely many people you know who are also experiencing these feelings. From there, you can follow these simple tips and start looking forward to the future once again.
If you feel you need more support, there’s an abundance of highly effective evidence-based therapies that are available for post-lockdown anxiety. A psychotherapist can not only help with lessening the burden, but can also provide you with a valuable toolkit of techniques to help you cope better.
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