Feeling anxious about life after lockdown? As restrictions begin to ease across the country, over the coming months we will (hopefully!) begin to experience some semblance of life ‘returning to normal’. But for some of us, the relaxation of measures gives rise to a whole new world of worry.
If you need help with your mental health, call the Mind infoline on 0300 123 3393. If you need urgent help, call your local NHS urgent mental health helpline
With no early morning commutes, after-school commitments and social events to juggle, a huge number of Brits have had more time to rest and reflect on their gruelling schedules and have grown accustomed to a slower pace of life over the past year. Combine this with the very real and present danger of COVID-19 and we've all had a lot on our minds. If returning to life outside of COVID-19 lockdown makes you feel uneasy, you are not alone.
We spoke to Glenys Jackson, clinical lead for Mental Health at Bupa UK and Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, about the causes behind post-lockdown anxiety, and share expert tips and techniques to help you navigate this challenging period:
What are the signs of post-lockdown anxiety?
The coronavirus outbreak has left many of us feeling deeply unsettled. There are a number of different ways that people may experience pre and post-lockdown anxiety as a result.
While it’s a natural response to feel anxious when faced with uncertainty and situations that are beyond our control, a warning sign that you’re having difficulties with anxiety is if your thoughts or behaviours have become excessive, says Jackson – for example, a bad mood lasts longer, or you are constantly irritable and your patience is low.
According to Jackson, the following might be telltale signs of post-lockdown anxiety to watch out for:
1. Worrying about the future
Following a year of false starts and a fair share of bad news, it's normal to feel anxious about the unknown and worry about what to expect from the coming months, but if your (often unfounded) worries about the future are dominating your every waking thought, it might be time to seek help.
2. Difficulty sleeping
It's no great surprise that many people have struggled to get decent shut-eye since the start of the pandemic. With genuine and substantiated fears to contend with, it's a wonder any of us have slept at all. But if insomnia is taking its toll it is worth addressing, as sleep deprivation can impact every area of your life.
3. Feeling tired and irritable
If you constantly feel tired, irritable or have trouble concentrating, you are not alone. This is a common reaction to stressful life events, so give yourself a break.
4. Heart palpitations
A speedy pulse can be a common sign of stress, so if your heart keeps racing and you constantly feeling on edge, chances are you are struggling to cope.
5. Shortness of breath or breathing quickly
Anxiety triggers can vary widely from person to person, but many people experience shortness of breath when they feel anxious and stressed. Breathing at an abnormally rapid rate can cause a reduction in carbon dioxide, which in turn makes you lightheaded and increases feelings of panic.
6. Rumination and obsessive thinking
Other telltale signs of anxiety include overthinking and excessive rumination. Obsessing about situations or life events is associated with anxiety disorders and depression, and can actually exacerbate these conditions.
7. Overcautious behaviour
While it's normal to be cautious following a major life event, holding yourself back from doing things you’d usually do because of amplified fears is a common symptom of post-lockdown anxiety.
8. Physical symptoms
Fears and anxiety associated with the global pandemic can manifest physically and its normal to experience a range of worrying symptoms including headaches, stomach cramps, sweating and nausea, says Dr Tourani.
While hand washing is clearly essential right now, germaphobia can have worrying consequences. 'You may find yourself washing your hands for longer than the recommended 20 seconds, feeling preoccupied with distressing thoughts about catching or passing on the virus and spending considerably more time cleaning,’ says Dr Tourani.
‘Nobody likes feeling anxious, so you might find yourself attempting to control, react negatively or ignore any anxiety you feel.’ If obsessive COVID-19 hygiene has started to take over your life, it's something worth being mindful of once we do return to normal life.
What might cause post-lockdown anxiety?
From contracting COVID-19 to concerns about work, money and the welfare of your family, there are multiple reasons people may feel anxious about life after lockdown. Anxiety often occurs when we try to predict how threatening situations will unfold, so we can prepare for them and keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, says Jackson. While thinking ahead can be helpful, attempts to ‘problem solve’ may cause further uncertainty and worry.
‘At the moment, many of us have even greater concerns about employment, education, health and finances,’ explains Jackson. ‘It can feel very overwhelming and challenging to have so much uncertainty around us, so it’s important to remember that these are normal responses to the circumstances we are all in.’
There’s also the psychological impact associated with sheltering from the virus at home. ‘We went into lockdown with the understanding that it was protecting us from harm,’ says Dr Touroni.
‘If you’ve been told that it’s not safe to be out and about, coming of lockdown will trigger anxiety for some people,' she adds. 'There’s been the sense of being in a safe bubble, so we might feel quite exposed coming out of it.’
How to cope with post-lockdown anxiety
Navigate post-lockdown anxiety with positive coping mechanisms, daily goal-setting and a dose of self-compassion:
Set daily goals
Breaking your day up can help make everything seem a little more manageable. ‘If you’re finding it difficult to concentrate, set small achievable targets for yourself, such as cooking a nice meal from scratch, or watching that film you’ve been meaning to see,’ says Jackson. ‘This will give you something to do and promote a sense of satisfaction or enjoyment.’
Share your worries
Talking to someone you trust can help. 'Telling someone how you feel can make a difference, even if they can't change what you're experiencing,' says Jackson. 'If you are struggling with your mental health, it is OK to ask for help. There is often support available inside and outside work.’
Whatever your situation, what’s happening in the world right now is a lot to process, and you might find some days easier than others. ‘There’s a lot beyond our control right now, and that can be difficult to accept, so practicing acceptance and self-compassion may help to let go of the stresses you can’t control,' says Jackson. 'It may also free up energy and space in your mind.’
Be present in the moment
If anxious thoughts and fears are overwhelming, practise being in the present moment, suggests Dr Tourini. ‘What pleasure can you take from this moment right now?’ she asks. ‘Starting your day with a short mindfulness meditation can be helpful to give you an understanding of what kind of emotional state you’re in so you can be sensitive to that but also not be dictated by amplified fears and anxieties.’
Allow yourself to grieve
Following an incredibly tough year for everyone, it's normal to feel stressed, anxious or uncertain, so don't fight it. Even if you haven't been directly impacted by the pandemic the stress alone has had a monumental impact on many people's mental health, so it's OK to allow yourself to grieve.
‘It’s important to give yourself permission to have the feelings you do; to feel worried about your own health or the health of those around you, including those who you care for or live with,’ says Jackson.
Manage your screen time
If the news makes you feel overwhelmed, turn it off and focus on something positive instead. ‘Be careful about the source of your information,' says Jackson. 'Twitter and forwarded social media messages are often misleading and incorrect, which can further fuel anxiety,’ she adds. ‘Try to stick to reputable, trusted news sources instead.’
Look at the bigger picture
Try to stay connected to your goals and values in life and look at the big picture, says Dr Tourini. ‘Ask yourself, what do you stand to gain from meeting up with friends and family again? Can you see the benefits of life re-opening?’
In the meantime, make the most of video calls with family and friends, too. ‘Try reframing social distancing as physical distancing,’ Jackson adds. ‘Although you can’t be together in person, you can still socialise in other virtual ways.
Add exercise to your daily routine
Exercise outdoors has multiple proven health benefits, not least helping to ground you in the present moment. ‘Even if it’s just a walk outside, it’s a change of environment and will allow you to get some fresh air,’ says Jackson. ‘It’s also a chance to see other people out walking their dog or going for a run. It may help to physically see other people going about their day just as you are.'
Where to find help for your mental health
If you're struggling with your mental health and need help, try these resources:
Call the Mind infoline, for signposting on where to seek help: 0300 123 3393
Go to your GP, and explain your symptoms - they can offer you medical help
You can refer yourself for an online NHS therapy programmes nhs.uk/service-search
If you just want to talk to someone, call the Samaritans 116 123
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