Emerging from lockdown
Great news - schools have reopened, and we now have an exit plan to get back to a ‘new normal’. A routine, back into the workplace, meeting up with friends and family we have been cut off from. However, after a year of complete uncertainty with many lockdowns and lots of scary press, it is no wonder that many people are still quite anxious about how that will pan out. It can even heighten some people’s anxiety and make them feel really distressed.
So, let us look at the positives. Lockdown has had some upsides – we have had more appreciation of our surroundings, there has been less air pollution, a more leisurely way of life without the 24/7 drive to cram more into our days. Some, including myself and the dogs, have benefitted from more exercise and fresh air. Many of us feel more of a connection with our surroundings. And to some of us, it may even have come as a bit of a relief to see fewer people, especially anyone with an anxiety disorder and maybe doesn't enjoy social gatherings.
So, now we will be going back to this ‘new normal’ and some people are starting to second guess what it will entail. That means a lot of overthinking. Maybe anguishing over lots of questions such as, "Will I catch Covid?", "Will I start having panic attacks", "Will anyone want to talk to me?", "What am I going to talk about?" And so, the negative thoughts start.
We know that these worries and the anxiety we experience are normal human emotions. What’s more, they are there for a very good reason – to keep us out of harms’ way. The emotions need to be uncomfortable as they are meant to grab our attention and compel us to act.
However, when these fears and worries get out of control, they start to cause problems in our lives. For example, we might start to stop doing things to avoid any of the problems we imagine might happen. We might avoid going out altogether and meeting friends because we are not used to it.
The catch is that the more we resort to these avoidance tactics the more we will be compelled to do them again.
They become a habit. It might make sense to begin with, but these avoidance tactics only serve to make the situation worse.
Easing yourself in
You might find these few ideas helpful to get you back on track if you are experiencing anxiety as the lockdown lifts.
1. Government Roadmap to easing lockdown – be guided by this, it changes regularly. We need to continue to follow public health guidelines.
2. Go at your own pace - you could make yourself a list of things you would like to do over the next few months, but not all on one day! Maybe pick one at a time.
3. Set yourself up for success by setting reasonable targets that you know you can achieve. It is all about small steps.
4. Recognise when you are being highjacked by your limbic system, feeling anxious and are doing a lot of what iffing (what if people stare at me? What if I cannot remember the way? What if it is dangerous? Etc..). Challenge the thoughts, are they factual? Could that happen? Has that happened to me before?
5. Be comfortable. Go at your own pace. If you have not been going to the shops – maybe start by just walking near the shops, then think about shopping at a quiet time. Building on your successes and relieving your anxiety.
6. Returning to work – talk to your manager if you have concerns or queries, you will not be alone, and it may help to talk things through.
7. Reward yourself when you successfully complete your goals. When you manage to tackle your anxious thoughts and prove that you can consciously make small steps in the right direction. Equally, if you don’t quite achieve what you set out to do – be compassionate to yourself. There is always another day. Try not to be harsh on yourself.
8. Tackling anxious thoughts requires energy and commitment so be kind to yourself.
9. And breathe – breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of seven helps lower the heart rate and blood pressure. Brilliant if your anxious thoughts start trying to take over.