Earlier this year, our lives collectively changed as we reacted to the Coronavirus pandemic. We all had to shift together to find a new way of living with new restrictions, new anxieties, and new ways of working. Lockdown has been a disruptive, but necessary, new feature in our lives.
If you spent some time on social media over the last few weeks, you might have seen that people’s mindsets and reactions to lockdown have generally followed a similar pattern. There was a period of initial anxiety and, for some, excitement as this was a novel situation and for some was seen as a holiday.
Then there was the period of feeling like now was the perfect time to be productive. Posts on social media was declaring that if you didn’t use this time to write a book or re-organise your entire house then you were a lazy human being. Of course this was met with a lot of guilt and shame. And then there was the period of acceptance and allowing yourself to slow down and take things a day or week at a time.
In fact, with more time to sleep, read, and reflect, some people with pre-existing anxieties are even seeing their moods improve – feeling no guilt about opting out of seemingly mandatory social situations.
It’s no wonder that the idea of the lockdown ending and moving back into our pre-covid lives can be so anxiety-inducing.
Post-lockdown anxiety has been defined by Anxiety UK as the “fear or worry of returning to normal life and leaving lockdown.” They have identified this as coming from various sources, with the most common being health anxiety and the fear of the unknown.
We have spent months being told not to spend much time outdoors, not to travel unless necessary, not to hug our friends and loved ones. And suddenly we are being asked to consider the idea of returning to work or of our children returning to school.
We might be asking ourselves what this might look like, how is it going to work, is it going to be safe? And all of these questions are unanswerable, giving way to a swirl of anxious thoughts that won’t let our minds rest.
According to phobia expert Adam Cox, symptoms of post-lockdown anxiety include: recurring thoughts or worries about the future, feeling unsettled or tense, issues with sleeping, constantly checking the news or social media about Covid-19 or lockdown rules, and in extreme cases, possible panic attacks.
Many have found comfort in spending quality time with loved ones, something that might have been a rarity before. During the pandemic, we have all been encouraged to strengthen our connections, even if we aren’t isolating together. To have this taken away as young children return to school and parents return to work might feel really jarring.
Having spent the last few months being connected at the hip with a very small handful of people and to suddenly be without them might feel like you have lost an arm.
Of course, some might welcome a slight reprieve from trying to home-school their children or trying to negotiate space in a shared flat to make conference calls.
Again, having spent so much time with just one or two other people, going for walks in the park but not interacting with others, and only seeing our colleague on screens, the idea of returning to a busy office or dealing with a busy tube carriage might feel slightly overwhelming.
The noise level and amount of social interaction needed to function properly at work or at school might take some getting used to.
On the other hand, some might find that the lack of screaming children, interrupting partners, or the sound of the latest kids TV show blaring in the background a welcome change. Being able to work from an office rather than from home might bring more peace and increase the ability to focus.
How to Manage Post-Lockdown Anxiety
1. Some anxiety can be beneficial
First of all, it’s important to remember that a small amount of anxiety can be beneficial. It stops us from being reckless and making silly mistakes.
Evolutionarily, anxiety was beneficial as it allowed our ancestors to be alert to threats such as predators while they were out hunting and gathering. It can do the same thing for us today, such as keeping us alert to strangers coughing in the supermarket, reminding us not to touch our faces, and stopping us from hugging our friends (no matter how much we want to).
However, when anxieties are getting overwhelming, even stopping you from leaving the house, you might wish to consider reaching out for support.
2. Anxiety is temporary
Remind yourself that all anxiety is temporary. According to Dr Jill Bolte Taylor, an emotion only lasts in the body for 90 seconds; “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.”
3. Anxiety and unconscious thought
Anxiety comes from unconscious thought patterns, and by making these thoughts patterns conscious we are then able to take more control over them. To read more about this, click here.
4. Take one day at a time
As much as looking ahead and planning are positive, it is only positive if we are focusing on what we can control, not on what we can’t control. For example, we can’t control what the government guidelines might change to or when, but we can keep in communication with our boss to let them know of any potential problems (such as our children’s school not re-opening before the office does).
As much as you can, just focus on today and tomorrow. When we focus on the future, we start to get overwhelmed and think of all the possible eventualities and how we can be prepared for them – which is impossible to do.
5. The benefit of routine
Implement a healthy, but not restrictive routine. Bring things in such as exercising, meditating, reading, baking, painting, and so on. If you have been enjoying such a routine during the lockdown, start thinking about how you might implement some of these things into your post-lockdown routine.
6. Write your worries down
Having a thought circle around and around in your head is your mind’s way of trying to stop you from forgetting it. Your mind doesn’t know that it is an unhelpful thought. By writing your anxious thought out, your mind might be more able to let it go.
We sometimes think that we are feeling anxious for no reason at all, but once we force ourselves to sit down and write our anxious thoughts out, it starts to make sense why we are feeling anxious and we might be able to show ourselves some more compassion.
7. Deal with one worry at a time
Now that we have a list of anxious thoughts, we can start to deal with them. Separate out those worries that we can do something about and those that we have no control over. We might be worried about getting public transport to work; maybe we can invest in a bike or talk to our boss about alternatives. We might be worried that there are more people in the parks; there is nothing that we can do about this other than avoid the parks.
8. Find the positives
Try to pick out the positives in each day as it comes. Maybe the positive is that the sun is shining. Maybe you were able to finish a report for work. Maybe you were able to find flour in the supermarket. You could also try to pick out some positives that might occur in the future. Maybe you will get to see your work best friend. Maybe you will get to listen to podcasts on your commute, without being interrupted by the kids. No matter how big or small, it’s always helpful to look for the positives.
If you’re struggling to cope with post-lockdown anxiety and the idea of re-engaging in the world, then do get in touch with us. We can match you with a therapist to support you through this. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected].