Updated: Jul 2
With the better half of this year being either in lockdown or with reduced social interaction, there is finally a release date (if it isn’t pushed back again!) By the end of July, coronavirus restrictions could be fully lifted, allowing people the freedom to meet up in large groups, go around each other’s houses and even get back to clubs. But after spending so much time covered up behind a mask and avoiding public places, it isn’t surprising that some people feel a degree of anxiety about this. To help ease people through this exciting transition, I have put together a list of tips and tricks to help manage and cope with any anxieties or concerns about this newfound returned freedom.
· Don’t expect too much too quickly.
It’ll take time, not only for society as a whole but also for us as individuals. It took some of us months to get used to lockdown, and it could take others months to get used to normal life again. This is a challenging and unexpected time for us all. Don’t pressure yourself based on how other people say or appear to be adjusting. Some people may be able to jump straight back into it, but that won't be the case for everyone. Take it one day at a time and build it into your routine naturally.
· Stay connected.
Over the last year, due to social distancing, some people may feel like they have become isolated or withdrawn from others. Trying to deal with such a big change in our lives by ourselves could make the adjustment process even harder. Now more than ever is the ideal time to reach out to others and reconnect our social bonds. It's an innate human need to socialise and be with other people, and the benefits to our well-being will skyrocket once we have this opportunity again. Even if it’s still online via the phone or facetime, a chat with a friend or loved one can go a long way to helping each other through yet another life-changing time.
· Set up boundaries if you are not yet comfortable.
If you aren’t ready to jump straight back into it, that is okay! If you're not prepared to suddenly stop all the social distancing practices you have spent over a year doing, then implement some boundaries/guidelines for yourself and others. This can include keeping the mask on, greeting people with your elbows, limiting the number of people you meet in a week. Communicate your boundaries to the people around you and do this for as long as it takes until you start to feel more comfortable. It isn't rude to introduce this, it’s simply putting your mental health and wellbeing first, and you probably won’t be the only person doing it.
· Set aside time to keep up any hobbies or activities you did during the lockdown.
Despite all the negatives, many people used the lockdown to their advantage by taking on new hobbies or achieving personal goals or skills that they wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise. The most common ones have been to pick up leisure reading, meditation, even exercise. Many of these activities have been scientifically proven to help a variety of mental disorders, especially stress and anxiety. Besides, having something to do by ourselves outside of working and the essential daily activities can go a great way to improving our wellbeing. Don’t drop it, keep it up, even if it’s for just 10 minutes a day. If it helped you then, the laws of motion suggest that it will continue to do so.
· Keep yourself informed.
Now more than ever, big updates seem to be occurring every week, from the news of the traffic light system for international travelling to the rates of the country’s vaccination process. Anxiety comes from a place of worry about the unknown, about the uncertain. We can therefore reduce what we don’t know until we reach a point that is manageable and helpful to go about our daily lives. Examples to help achieve this can be through switching on news updates on your social media, tuning into the news in the mornings or picking up a newspaper.
· Share this with your friends.
A burden shared is a burden lightened. You aren’t alone in your concerns, most people have had this reaction at some point. It’s a big change to go from ordering groceries to your house to going to a big superstore and seeing hundreds of people all shopping again. Sharing your concerns can be cathartic and make you feel better getting them out, like releasing steam from a kettle to prevent the pressure from building up. It can also help your friends to understand if you may need more support from them and how they can go about this, as well as how you can go about helping them.
· Practise mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation involves clearing your mind and focusing on your body and breathing in the present moment, not on the future. Slow your breathing to shift your body into its relaxed state (a good technique is to inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, and exhale for 5. Repeat until you find yourself unwinding.) This can be done at any time, including before or just after you have been out, and even during a period of distress. But like all skills, it needs to be practised to be perfected. It might be hard at first, but it is effective. It's even been used in front-line therapies in Eastern cultures for years, proven to provide relief to people dealing with a whole host of struggles. After all, there’s only a one-letter difference between meditation and medication.
· Think of all the things you will finally be able to do again.
Our freedom has been limited for so long, so a simple but useful approach to getting ourselves excited about this time is to think about the things we have missed the most that we can now do again. For many people, this can include the return of cinema dates, indoor gatherings of large groups, and attending your favourite sporting events and concerts. It is a good way to encourage positive beliefs about the future instead of negative ones, challenging any feelings of dread or anxiety that may be making it difficult to look forward to the next few months.
Lastly, it is important to remember what underpins and maintains all of our fears and anxieties: avoidance. Expose yourself to it little by little to help face any worries you may have, and use each step as evidence to help you take the next one. If you aren’t ready to go to a pub with your friend, start off by sitting in the garden with them at a 2-metre distance. Then go up the ladder by sitting indoors with them, and continue to do this until you reach a point that you are happy with. It’s challenging, but it will be worth it.
However, if it gets to the point where this anxiety or fear is really starting to affect your mental health and everyday life, then it is time to seek help. Professionals are here to help those who need support adjusting to changes in their life, and there haven’t been many changes as widespread or significant as this pandemic has been. If you think you would benefit from therapy to learn the skills and tools to practice, contact Dr Liliya Korallo at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website via https://liliyakorallopsychology.co.uk/.
Dr Korallo is a psychologist in central London that has been working with clients throughout the pandemic, helping them to manage whatever mental health difficulty or disorder they may present with. She can work in person in her office by Liverpool Street, London, or online if preferable.
Written by Andrew Theophani