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Lockdown lifting got you more scared than excited? Here’s how to tackle the anxiety of returning to the world

Jade Bremner
·5-min read
<p>How do we navigate the psychological aspects of leaving lockdown?</p> (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

How do we navigate the psychological aspects of leaving lockdown?

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Hurrah! The government has offered us a roadmap out of lockdown. I, for one, can already hear the champagne corks popping and martini glasses clinking as one of the many who is literally counting down the days, Covid-data permitting, until the end of all restrictions in England (in case you were wondering, it’s 117 Days, 9 hours and one minute, at the time of writing).

There are, of course, aspects I will miss from lockdown. I’ve loved spending more valuable time with my immediate family, and occasionally working in my pyjamas (don’t tell my editor), but I despise the monotony of the pandemic. Unlike others, I don’t find solace in routine.

I realise that not everyone is excited by the prospect of putting on their glad rags, even if they can. And I’m fully aware of the uncomfortable reality that even if we were all vaccinated, we do need to continue to take precautions because of the health risks.

Protection offered by the vaccine is not 100 per cent (the jab just makes the chance of serious illness less likely); there will not be total uptake of the vaccines by everyone; there are still questions about impact on transmission; there are new strains evolving all the time; and this virus is still deadly and still very much out there.

Read more: Will we ever return to our pre-coronavirus lives?

Others don’t have physical health fears, but perhaps mental health concerns or anxieties. A study of 2,000 adults found the average adult’s anxiety and stress levels has increased by almost 50 per cent in lockdown and a survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation concluded that almost a quarter of adults in the UK feel lonely now.

Other people are just accustomed to this new way of living. Despite the obvious negatives, many have enjoyed removing social shackles, spending time with their pets, saving money, getting an extra hour on either side of the working day, thanks to no commute, not wearing bras or makeup. Perhaps there has been extra time to spend on things like gardening, baking, Zoom quizzes and learning to love ourselves and our own company.

“I think what a lot of people will be feeling, myself included, is a fear of not just getting back to the way we used to live, but the mental struggles that come with working at such a fast pace,” editor Jamie Windust, told The Independent. “In the real world there’s the pressure to work constantly, to exercise, to be seen to be having fun.”

I think what a lot of people will be feeling is a fear of not just getting back to the way we used to live, but working at such a fast pace

Will some of the new freedoms we found in 2020-2021 be lost again as we jump back onto the hamster wheel of “real life”?

Will we be able to “pick and choose more carefully what my time and energy should be afforded to post lockdown?” wonders Windust. Will we be able to sill “relish the moments of calm?” And how do we deal with some of this anxiety as we approach the end-of-lockdown? We ask Ruth Cooper-Dickson, accredited coach and founder of mental wealth consultancy, CHAMPS, for some advice.

Recognise you have choices

Although it might not feel this way, the pandemic has in many ways created more choices, by forcing us all to realise that the established ways of working could be upturned in an instant.

“Now there is even more change to consider,” says Cooper-Dickson who believes that we shouldn’t see post-lockdown as a case of automatically and unquestioningly adapting back to our old realities but moving to new ones if the old ways weren’t working.

“Especially as many organisations may be looking to adopt a more ‘hybrid approach’ to working where people are in the office only two-three days a week, rather than five,” she says.

Give yourself time

The speed at which each of us adapts will vary from person to person. It takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days (with an average of 66) for a new behaviour to reach automaticity, according to a 2010 study by Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts and Wardle.

Cooper-Dickson advises “taking it at your own pace and focusing on what you can control”. Even if the country is on track for all restrictions to be dropped by 21 June, doesn’t mean you have to jump right into social commitments.

“Even though we might be really excited to meet up with friends, we could feel a little out of our comfort zone for a while as we get used to it again.”

At least coming out of the pandemic, we have at least three months to prepare and the government’s four-point plan will drip-feed us into communal situations. Those of us lucky enough to have found them can savour the peaceful moments before they end.

Take it at your own pace and focus on what you can control

Take small steps

Those with continued uncertainty can “look at the small steps you can take to create your own mini routines or structures at home,” when lockdown restrictions are eased,” she advises.

The 9-5 may no longer be the norm, but hopefully we will take positives from the pandemic, including our “our increased community ethos and acts of kindness,” says Cooper-Dickson.

We can slowly relearn to converse face-to-face, build our confidence back up on public transport, explore other parts of the UK.

Remember you are not alone

It’s important to remember that you won’t be alone in feeling end-of-lockdown anxiety, says Cooper-Dickson.

“There are so many other people who feel exactly as you do. And don’t be hard on yourself if you are struggling – the pandemic has been, and continues to be, a really significant and disruptive time of our lives.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.