As the Coronavirus lockdown begins to ease, we all face new challenges trying to find our way back into a world beyond the confines enforced by government pandemic restrictions. This return to a broader horizon is exciting in so many ways. At the same time, making the transition while the COVID-19 threat is still present has the potential to add a sense of fear and anxiety to many people’s lives.
Our own Dr Claudia Herbert was recently involved in an article discussing how anxiety can soon follow when the government pandemic protocol becomes unclear. Writing for Working Voices, Dan Parry considers the contrast between the way the early part of the British lockdown was put in place and recent announcements Boris Johnson made, signalling the start to the process of easing restrictions.
The article affirms the truth that uncertainty can breed anxiety. This is especially relevant as the lockdown measures move from a period of rigid and unambiguous guidelines across the whole of society to a more case by case scenario. As people try to traverse a path back to their pre-pandemic lives it is becoming clear that, for many of us, things won’t necessarily just revert back to the way they were at the start of 2020 before the panademic began. As Dr Herbert puts it in the Working Voices article:
“Normality as it used to be may not be restored…we might not ever go back to where we were before this started.”
Accepting Uncertainty And Coping With Fear And Anxiety
The easing of lockdown measures has heralded greater freedom and opportunities to include extra events and activites into our lives again. Shops have reopened, travel restrictions are being lifted and social distancing is likely to be reduced to 1 metre before very long. Many people are back at work again and there is a gradual sense that we are through the very worst of the pandemic. These are all reasons to be joyful but it is also important to recognise that the process of unlocking will bring with it many emotional challenges and it is perfectly natural that many of us will experience feelings of fear and anxiety during the transition.
In a recent Guardian correspondence section this comes up for discussion after a reader writes in:
I’m starting to see friends and neighbours who are anxious and fearful about going out – and for a while I felt it, too. Not so much because they fear catching the virus (although that is, of course, still very important), but because they haven’t been out for so long. A neighbour tells me she feels anxious about going out because she hasn’t been farther than the end of our road for nearly three months, and hasn’t driven her car, which she is worried about.
Another friend says she has been moving about in our local town within a radius of about four miles, but feels anxious about driving outside of it.
These are people who happily drive to continental Europe in normal circumstances and have a wide circle of friends and activities.
Is it normal to feel like this, and so disoriented?
In her response, Guardian author Annalisa Barbieri, enlists the help of psychologist, Dr Paul Rohleder who explains that the breakdown of our established routines, coupled with the shrinking of our horizons has made these feelings completely understandable and to be expected.
5 Ways To Make The Transition From Lockdown Less Stressful
Acceptance And Awareness
The first and kindest step you can take is to acknowledge that these feelings are reasonable and to understand that they are a natural part of a response to unprecendented times such as those we have all experienced recently.
Patience And A Gentle Approach
For those who are feeling intimidated by the prospect of expanding their routines again, gradual and incremental change can make the process far more comfortable. This could be introducing a longer trip out to a shop a bit further away than your recent routine has included or arranging to meet somebody for some outdoor sporting or fitness activity. Every time you go back to something which used to feel familiar, it could take time for it to feel less unusual and scary. It’s only by building up tolerance gently that you can move through any apprehension.
Enjoy Regrowing Your In-Person Social Network
Having spent so much time in smaller groups while we’ve been confined to single households, it will undoubtedly take some adjustment to begin to connect with more people, in-person again. These meetups may be slightly different for a while as social distancing continues to be enforced but arranging to spend in-person time with people will help you to rekindle one of the fundamental ways humans connect – one which has sadly been displaced during recent events.
Focus On The Present
There is a host of media coverage, news reporting and opinion about where things are going from here but the reality is that it’s going to be very difficult to predict what the course of the rest of the year will look like. With so much speculation at large, it’s easy to get caught up with thoughts about what the future will bring. While it’s good to inform and educate yourself about the subject, it’s important to be able to strike a balance and not to be consumed by this. It is highly likely that change, uncertainty and risk managment might be some of the few predictable outcomes for the foreseeable future which is why focusing on the present is a powerful skill to cultivate. By living in the here and now you become empowered to act in response to actual events rather than becoming embroiled in worries about things which may not come to pass. Guided mindfulness meditations such as the one below can be effective tools to help you focus and quiet your mind.
Celebrate The Good Things
The last few months have tested many of us in ways we couldn’t have imagined when the year began. Taking a moment to acknowledge the challenges you have encountered and overcome during the pandemic can help to put things into context and strengthen your resolve going forward into the future. There may be new things you have learned and achieved during this period and the changes which are unfolding may, ultimately, bring new opportunities your way. This period has brought with it the opportunity to reflect on our lives and values and it may be that this becomes a moment to take positive changes into your own life going forward too.
The future is more uncertain than we might normally be comfortable with but we have come through a great deal of turbulance already and there are lots of reasons to be hopeful as we make the transition into post-lockdown life.