How to Deal with Post-Lockdown Anxiety
With Governments fixed on vaccination targets, the media has started talking about a ‘Freedom Day’. At last this will bring greater opportunity for socialising, such as restaurants, festivals and maybe nightclubs for those keen for some late night fun.
Along with this it is expected that infection numbers will rise. All this makes for a complex situation. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by what lies ahead, you’re not alone.
If you do feel anxious about things opening up, know that there is nothing strange or defective about this. Feelings of anxiety are your body doing exactly what it is meant to. We have been living under the fear of a threat – and may have also been personally heavily impacted by that threat.
Our bodies respond to this by moving into fight or flight mode, raising our adrenaline and cortisol levels to get us through. For some people, lockdown was a time to rest and reset, but, for many others, it was a time of frenetic stress. This means that those stress hormones have been elevated for a really long time.
So, how to work through this period, with as much calmness as possible? Try the techniques below.
1. Give yourself some grace
Giving yourself a healthy dose of kindness can help. Practice some self-compassion as you make the transition and remind yourself that it’s natural to feel uncertain and nervous.
It can be tempting to push difficult feelings aside and just "power through”, but one of the most helpful things we can do for ourselves is to simply accept any difficult feelings without judgement. Grant yourself the time and space to acknowledge the turbulence and let any feelings of fear, anxiety, or anger and be present without trying to push them aside or change them.
2. Focus on what you can control
Feeling uneasy when the pandemic is, of course, not over, is very natural. With lots to worry about in the unknown, from the potential for future "variants of concern" or the thread of catching or spreading the virus, you might struggle to stay calm, in the present.
Lack of control and certainty can be anxiety-raising. We often tend to deal with stress by trying to assert control, and when things are changing so rapidly, we can end up feeling very unsettled.
It can help to focus on those things which are certain and which we can control. Think about how we control our anxiety levels, what we need to feel more solid again, reminding ourselves that important things like our personal connections are within our control, too.
3. Reframe your thinking
When we feel anxious, it can be easy to fall into unhelpful thinking patterns where we catastrophise or try to predict the future. When you catch yourself doing this, try to reframe the thought and tell yourself a more helpful story.
If your thought is "post-lockdown life is too overwhelming, try reframing it to: "It’s normal to be anxious about this change and I’m allowed to go at my own pace" '.
4. Monitor your exposure to the news
Limit the news where possible. Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety so find trusted sources that you can rely on and set a time limit for how much you consume.
5. Set boundaries
Given that we're all likely to respond to the end of lockdown in different ways, it tracks that some people in your life, even those you're closest to, might be feeling different to you. If you are, say, invited to sit in your sister's garden for a barbeque, but you're not feeling comfortable with the idea, it's important to be truthful.
Be honest and set the boundaries that you feel comfortable with. It is worth considering what is stopping you – is it anxiety about health or is it more social anxiety?
6. Stick to a healthy routine
When it comes to handling anxious feelings, looking after yourself is important. Don’t forget the basics – maintain a positive routine that includes exercise, healthy food and sleep, and communicate with loved ones about how you’re feeling.
7. Take time to process what's happened
Trying to convince yourself that you should be able to pick up where you left off in March 2020 or August 2021 isn't wise. After a year of collective trauma – and much still unknown about what lies ahead – taking time to process what has gone on is key.
Ask yourself questions like:
· what has been the most difficult thing for me through this process?
· what has changed for me through this time?
· what have I learned about myself and my capacity to manage hard things?
· is there anything I need in order to feel ok now?
Try thinking about and journalling answers to these, to see if they help you to get some clarity on how you feel.