How to deal with post-lockdown anxiety and embrace the ‘new normal’
In its third year of running, Wellbeing Week this year has coincided nicely with the lifting of restrictions and return to some sense of normality. Whilst much has been written over the past year and a half regarding keeping well during a global pandemic, arguably the return to a faster pace of life with its associated stressors means we need to continue to focus on our personal wellbeing.
There have been clear arguments evidenced regarding a spike in anxiety with the return to ‘normality’. For many people, the restrictions put in place as a result of lockdown have allowed for a slower life and in some ways a more peaceful existence. Returning to socialising, office politics and a busier way of life has left us wondering the impact post-covid will have on our overall wellbeing, including our mental health.
The last sixteen months have been a blur for many people with the whole concept of time becoming somewhat warped. The majority of the population have been counting down the days for the return to some sort of normality. In recent weeks, the opening of pubs and restaurants and the return to socialising with friends and family has been the source of much pleasure.
For others however, the lifting of restrictions has caused fear and anxiety. Unlike anxiety in its typical form, post-lockdown anxiety seems to have impacted on a range of people, not only those who have typically struggled with some sort of anxiety disorder in the past.
What has caused Lockdown Anxiety?
The increased levels of anxiety among the population over the last sixteen months is not surprising given the serious impact the pandemic has had on people’s lives. Quite clearly the human cost caused by Covid-19 has had an increased people’s fears around their own health and that of those close to them. With the new variant causing an increase in cases, people are understandably still anxious about the virus and its’ impact.
As well as health factors, with unemployment levels high there has been increased financial pressure for large swathes of people. This has been made harder as a result of childcare pressure, with the need for home schooling. The Mental Health Foundation conducted a study on 2,000 adults and found that the average adult’s anxiety and stress levels had increased by 50 per cent in lockdown.
There has been a huge increase in loneliness during the pandemic with a quarter of adults reporting feeling lonely. More recently however, people have normalised a more insular lifestyle, making the shift to increased social interactions the source of anxiety.
Whilst one might expect the return to more familiar routines to be the source of comfort, this does not seem to be the case for many people who have become comfortable with the ‘new normal’. As Kirsten Macphee, a GP for Babylon Health pointed out in an article on post-lockdown anxiety:
“The idea of returning to the old routine is in itself anxiety-provoking for some. A chance to lead a simpler life has increasingly been hailed as a benefit of lockdown”.
This is reiterated by the charity Anxiety UK who have stated the following:
“There is an argument that lockdown has indeed brought a welcome relief and escape in some ways for those of us who were so used to facing multiple anxiety inducing activities on a daily basis and battling with the panic and stress that it created”.
Therefore, whilst some people are in desperate need to come out of this period of lockdown, others are not ready to forfeit a world which has in fact allowed them to avoid the things that make them anxious.
In a strange way, lockdown has become a kind of comfort zone for many people – at a time when so much has been going on, it has been almost comforting, if not less emotionally taxing, to relinquish some control over their lives.
How can we cope with post-lock down anxiety?
The return to ‘normality’ will be different for everyone and each recovery plan will vary according to individual personality and needs. There are a range of strategies that can be employed to tackle the anxieties that have emerged over lockdown.
Take things slow
There is no question that going at your own pace is essential for supporting your wellbeing. Whilst some people might be filling up their social calendar, there is no need to rush back into anything. Keep reminding yourself to ease yourself gently back into a faster paced world.
In addition to this, particularly when feeling anxious and avoidant, try and remind yourself to not avoid things entirely. Setting oneself more manageable tasks can be a good idea rather then pushing yourself into situations you are not ready for.
Get good information from credible sources and professionals
Next, it’s crucial to get the right information from reliable sources. Throughout the pandemic there has been an explosion of information from a range of sectors. Rather then getting overwhelmed by the vast amount of information, try, and stick to trusted sources like GOV.UK or the NHS Covid-19 website.
Stay in touch with family and friends
People have reported it being helpful to confide with friends and family, to let them know how you’re feeling. Sometimes just talking to someone can help ease anxiety. Dr Punam Krishan points out that at times like these it is more important than ever to keep channels of communication open with loved ones or people you trust; chances are they will also be feeling the same way so showing solidarity and offering support to one another will help. It is important to be open regarding any changes to your wellbeing with those close to you to ensure people are all comfortable and understand each others anxieties and concerns. By being aware of people’s expectations and worries any unwanted conflict can be avoided.
Keep some time for yourself
Whilst the world reopening can be exciting and offer chances to socialise and partake in new or old activities, it can also be overwhelming and potentially exhausting. As a result, it is important to factor in time for relaxation.
This will look different for everyone, but doing a guided meditation or practicing mindfulness can be a useful way to empty your mind of the pressures of the day. There are numerous mindfulness apps including Headspace and CALM that can help. As part of meditation, you focus on being in the present. This seems even more important given there is so much changing around us.
Have a plan
Planning ahead can help manage the uncertainty that has been present for the last year and a half. We are likely to feel more comfortable and confident if we have created a plan of some sort. This said, if you are feeling lonely and too anxious to socialise, the likelihood is that you are not on your own.
Reach out to someone you feel safe with or alternatively contact your GP or an organisational helpline such as the Samaritans. As stated previously, everyone needs to go at their own pace so do not feel disappointed if you are simply not yet ready to reintegrate socially. Remember to take one step at a time.
Find a comfortable routine
One thing repeatedly suggested during the pandemic has been the importance of putting a routine in place. As everything has started to open, our routines have understandably shifted.
In order to keep well and overcome post-lockdown anxiety, it would be useful to try and keep some structures in place, some may be new some may be following on from your lockdown routine. Either way, having gone through such a lengthy period of uncertainty, routine has provided many of us with some much-needed goals and structure.
Finally, one helpful way to manage anxiety can be journaling. If you are feeling in anyway worried or stressed, keeping a diary can help to explore your feelings and act as a safe space when perhaps you are not feeling up to sharing with others. As you begin to feel more confident there is no doubt that you will be able to look back at your writing and see the progress you have made.
It is hard to describe the full impact of Covid-19 and the different way it has affected us. Many mental health specialists say it will take years to understand the full extent of the pandemic’s impact on our mental health and wellbeing. The pandemic has been an unpredictable and irregular occurrence and its impact therefore will be difficult to measure and explore.
Dr. Andrew Molodynski, mental health policy lead at the BMA has said that “Covid-19 has meant a sudden and stark change in the way people live their lives but as we return to some semblance of normality, we are faced with the longer-term impact this pandemic will have on our mental health”.
It is important in these next steps that we stay open-minded and sensitive to each other. Everyone’s experience has been unique, and many are still grieving. Some of us are reaping the rewards of the return to some normality; whilst others fear the next steps and the move away from a sense of reprieve that the last sixteen months have offered them.
Irrespective of which camp one sits in, there is no doubt that the UK and indeed the rest of the world has been shaken by Covid-19 and we are still in the early stages of making steps forward.
Cooper-Dickson, founder of the mental health consultancy CHAMPS and a life coach, makes a positive assertion and believes that we shouldn’t see “post-lockdown as a case of automatically and unquestionably adapting back to our old realities but moving to new ones if the old ones weren’t working”.
By Kitty Ottmann
Mental Health Caseworker
Resources for post-lockdown anxiety support:
Safe Space: A place where adults struggling with their anxieties can come and feel safe and supported during this transitional period of returning to an unknown new normal.
The Samaritans – 116 123
Posted on: 30th June 2021