Reducing anxiety when adapting to life after the pandemic
Regardless of circumstance, I think that every individual around the globe has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to some extent. In the UK, life has seemed unrecognisable at times over the past two years!
As we start to see “normal” life returning with the removal of travel restrictions, testing requirements being removed and social events becoming more normal again, for people who struggle with anxiety, this can be a bit like a double-edged sword.
Many of the people I work with are explaining to me how in one way they feel relieved that the anxieties around the virus are diminishing. Yet, in another way, their anxieties are increasing at the prospect of life returning to normal.
We saw some changes in anxiety at the start of the pandemic as more and more people were struggling with worry and anxiety around the virus itself and the effect it may have upon them and their loved ones. Many of those people who were shielding became isolated, especially people who lived alone. Yet we also saw a decrease in stress and anxiety in other forms as life slowed down for many people with less work-related travel and commuting, more flexible working and the removal of social pressure as we suddenly found ourselves unable to socialise or meet with those outside of our household.
For many people this is an exciting time as we head back into the office, shopping centres seem busier than ever, and many people understandably want to make up for lost time, enthusiastically organising parties and family gatherings. Though it’s not surprising that those people who struggle with social anxiety or similar difficulties are finding that their anxiety is increasing.
It can be an anxious time even for some people who don’t usually struggle with anxiety. After feeling like we have almost lived in a bubble for the past two years, it can be daunting to face crowds again in the shops or at social events, give presentations to a room full of people at work and deal with face to face contact again. Or if you’re still feeling a little worried about the virus itself, it can be anxiety-provoking to go out without wearing a face covering or entering crowded places knowing that people no longer have to isolate themselves even if they have the virus.
However you are feeling right now, it is important to understand that your feelings, worries and anxieties are valid and that you are certainly not alone.
How can you reduce your anxieties?
It is important to recognise and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings around the changes that are taking place. It may feel easier to try to push them aside, bury them or pass them off as being “silly” but more often than not, when we do this, the thoughts and feelings become stronger. It can be helpful to write down your worries or share them with someone you trust.
Set your own pace
And don’t allow others to push you into things that you aren’t ready for just yet. It can be difficult for some people to understand that not everyone is excited and enthusiastic to return to “normal” life! Well-meaning family and friends can try to pressure you into meeting up or attending large social events, especially as this hasn’t been possible during the pandemic. Don’t feel that you have to say yes to everything.
If someone puts you on the spot, asking you to an event and you’re not sure whether you want to go but don’t feel comfortable telling them this, you could tell them that you need to check your diary and will get back to them! This gives you some time to think and consider whether you want to attend rather than feeling like you need to give them an answer whilst under pressure.
Don’t avoid everything!
The very nature of anxiety can make us want to avoid things that create anxious feelings. It may help you to feel better in the short term if you avoid everything that causes you anxiety, though in the long term this can make things worse. The pandemic itself has forced us to avoid lots of situations that many people find anxiety-provoking and continuing to avoid these for longer than is necessary can make them even harder to face.
It can be helpful to do something every day that pushes you a little. For example, if you find it difficult to manage crowds at your local supermarket you could go at a different time when it is quieter to start with, and then gradually re-introduce yourself to busier times. Or if you are finding that you feel unable to go out of the house at all, you could ask a family member or friend to visit you at home then gradually build up to going for a short walk with them, then to a local quiet coffee shop etc.
Uncertainty is a huge cause of anxiety for many people so as you adapt to the changes taking place try to make things as predictable as possible. Simple things can help such as making sure that you know who is going to be attending a social gathering, pre-booking a taxi for your shopping trip or knowing what time an event will start and end.
Take time to focus on the present
With so many changes having occurred over the past couple of years it can be easy to slip into the habit of thinking about the uncertainty of the future or worrying about what may or may not happen over the coming weeks and months. Focussing on the present can help to alleviate these anxieties. A simple way of doing this is spending time in nature, especially if you focus on what is around you, the colours, the sound of birds or noticing what is changing with the seasons etc. Practising meditation or mindfulness can also help you to focus on the present.
Check-in on your thoughts
This can be seen as a three-step process that some people call the “catch it, check it, change it” method. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are closely linked, each affecting the others. If we can become more aware of our thoughts and learn to challenge them, it can positively influence how we feel, as well as the actions we take.
“Catch it” means to become aware of the thoughts that you have as we don’t always notice some of the thoughts that may be affecting us. “Check it” means challenge it, is the thought definitely true? Do you have evidence to prove that it’s true? What are the real chances of this actually happening? “Change it” means can you come up with a more positive or even, a more neutral thought instead?
For instance the thought “Oh no I have to go out for drinks on Saturday and I know that I’ll hate it” can be challenged. Is it true? Firstly no one can make you go out so using the words “have to” is untrue! So changing it to “I’ve been asked to go out” can immediately help you to feel more in control of the situation as it becomes a choice.
Next “I know I’ll hate it” can be dealt with. How do you know? Have you ever been out for drinks and enjoyed it? If so, how do you know that you won’t enjoy it this time? The word “hate” is a very strong word! Is it more accurate to say that you may feel uncomfortable to some degree? If you decide to go, how can you make it easier for yourself? Often, challenging a thought or even a part of a thought can make a huge difference to how you feel.
We have all faced huge change, uncertainty and challenges over the past two years and as things change again it’s important to remember that it takes time to adapt, and that everyone will manage these changes in different ways as we are all unique as individuals. Therefore try not to compare yourself, instead be kind to yourself and accept that you may need to give yourself time to reconnect with “normal” life again.
If you are struggling with feelings of uncertainty, adapting to change or feel that you need some help to deal with your anxieties or emotions, hypnotherapy can be very effective in helping you to cope with change or uncertainty as well as anxiety. There is lots of information on the Hypnotherapy Directory website about how hypnotherapy could help you.