This Mental Health Awareness Week, the UK is on the cusp of reopening and getting back to how things were 2 years ago. When we entered lockdown, we were all nervous, but now anxiety is on the up because of opening those same doors we closed.
Are you feeling anxious about meeting up with friends again and the thought of going back to work? If so, remember: you are not alone. These are common feelings I’ve heard clients express in my counselling practice. Post-lockdown anxiety is something a lot of people are struggling with.
For over a year now COVID has brought heightened anxiety on us all as we have learned to adapt and live alongside a life-threatening virus.
As restrictions lift it’s understandable you might be feeling anxious and scared. Our brains have got used to spotting danger, as there has been a very real risk of catching and spreading COVID.
When we, as humans, live in very scary situations our brains and bodies learn to adapt to keep ourselves safe. This has involved wearing masks, scanning for people, keeping distanced, and following life-limiting government rules.
These have been unprecedented times with no escape.
Our brains have got used to spotting danger and this can be hard to switch off. Just because the government announces certain things are allowed again on certain dates, it doesn’t mean you have to jump into everything at once. Take your time to adjust as your brain can’t suddenly feel safe again overnight.
Remember, it’s OK to take it slow.
Perhaps you’ve struggled with social anxiety in the past and maybe lockdown has given you some solace by relieving the pressure to have to go out and meet people. You might not be ready to socialise yet, or you might not feel safe enough, and that is OK. Try to be open about how you are feeling and don’t feel pressured into doing anything you are not ready for yet.
You might want to consider talking about how you’re feeling with someone you trust. It is very possible that there are people in your life feeling anxious too. Not everyone is desperate to get back to crowds in pubs and shopping centres.
When you do feel ready to start opening up your life again, think about what you can do to feel more at ease. It might be meeting with just one person outside at a quiet time of day and gradually building things up at your pace.
It’s very likely that you’re going to feel more tired than you used to when you do start to go outside again and meet people. This is because we are now used to not meeting people and our brains are still on high alert, as the virus is still out there.
Be gentle with yourself and pace yourself with socialising, even if the temptation could be to do the opposite.
Think about what’s worked well for you over the past year, whether that’s a new daily walk or Zooming family. Are there routines you would like to keep? You don’t have to switch back to how things were.
Remember, it took time to adjust to lockdown, so it makes sense that it will take time to readjust to the ‘new normal’.
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Chloe Foster has a background in working in mental health and youth work. Today she runs Sussex Rainbow Counselling where she specialises in counselling LGBTQ clients online.
Chloe holds a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapeutic humanistic counselling from The University of Brighton. She is also an approved accredited registrant member of the National Counselling Society, and an accredited gender, sexuality and relationship diversities therapist with Pink Therapy.