Top tips to conquer your fears of exiting lockdown
A year of lockdowns has caused anxiety for many but the prospect of returning to social situations is also daunting for some. Mind coach Alison Blackler, founder of Wirral-based 2minds, offers tips for a relaxed return to normality
As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions begin to lift, many of us are looking forward to seeing family and friends and getting back to activities we have missed over the last year.
However, for many people they may find that the idea of returning to old routines or doing things that we have not done for a while, causes anxiety or stress.
Seeing your loved one’s face to face is a great way to boost your wellbeing and is especially important if you have been shielding alone, but you might find it feels strange at first.
While some people will want to take every opportunity to get out and about, others may feel hesitant or reluctant. It is good to remember that it took time for each of us to adapt to a new way of living during lockdown, it may take some time to adapt to life changing again.
We must remember that coming out of lockdown might be as hard for us as it was going into it. It took us time to find new ways of coping, and in fact living, during lockdown, so we can expect that it will take us some time to find our way back. Things may not be the same as they were before, and we need to be prepared for this also.
Even though we have been looking forward and anticipating the changes, this kind of re-adjustment can be difficult for our mental health. There are and will be a range of responses towards the gradual easing of lockdown.
For some the prospect of coming out of lockdown when debate is still live about the science is a concern. This may especially apply to those more vulnerable to the virus and those with mental health concerns.
Because our situations are unique, a critical part is to try not to judge ourselves harshly based on what other people are doing. Everybody is facing uncertainty and challenge – and we have no choice but to move through it as best we can with our own coping mechanisms.
For some seeing a family member in a garden may be enough, while others are keen to start going to pubs and restaurants. We have had to learn to adjust to staying home, not seeing loved ones, not travelling anywhere, not take part in team events or activities and generally socialise.
Most humans are social beings and so thrive from social contact and yet what has happened as a result of the lockdown. Have we forgotten how to socialise, got very comfortable with our ‘loungewear’ on and not getting our best clothes out of the wardrobe?
We may be comfortable in our space and with our own company, and we therefore need to push ourselves to reconnect with others outside the home. We may need to overcome awkwardness. We need to consider the new rules – how some are interpreting social distancing; can we hug each other or whether we have to wear a mask.
Many of us are keen to get it right and may be worried about slipping up. It is all new and doing your best to follow the rules is good, although it is critical to ensure that you look after yourself and take things are the right pace for you.
If you have not been in social situations recently, it is normal to feel a bit of social anxiety. It is not surprising if socialising feels strange or more difficult when you have not been doing it, so be kind to yourself and do not expect too much.
It may be useful to remember that there will be other, if not many, people feeling as unsure as you are. Another great distraction is to try and focus on putting other person at ease as this can help manage your own social anxiety, as well as being helpful to them.
It can be helpful to remember that it is up to you what your transition from lockdown looks like. It is often easier to make small adjustments than large, sudden changes. You can add activities and habits back into your routine at a pace that feels comfortable for you.
As managing this situation is personal, try to ease back into social situations gradually and start small if you can. It can be helpful to think about what you do and do not want to do socially, and to set some goals for yourself.
If you feel anxious, try to recall the last time you had fun with friends, so you remember what you can look forward to. It probably is not helpful to avoid social situations completely, but if you want to say no to some things that you do not think you will enjoy, or do not feel ready for, that is okay.
Here are three top tips to help you transition carefully through the next few weeks:
- Focus on the present – you can only do your best with what you have today. With regulations changing frequently, and lots of conflicting media discussions, try and keep a focus on the moment. Mindfulness or meditation are ways of bringing your mind back to the present moment.
- Bring things that are certain back into focus – whilst a lot of things are uncertain at the moment, there are also things to be hopeful about. Try to record and appreciate good things as they happen. Try and take opportunities to reset and relax.
- Talk to people you trust – it is important to talk about how you feel. Do not dismiss your concerns or judge yourself too harshly. Sharing will help you in many ways and importantly gives you an outside perspective.
Alison has launched an online self-help programme. Click here to find out more about the A Path Travelled online course.