Feeling anxious about life after lockdown? As restrictions begin to ease across the country, there’s some semblance of life ‘returning to normal’. But for some of us, the relaxation of measures is giving rise to a whole new world of worry.
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 become accustomed to a slower pace of life over the last few months.
If returning to life outside of COVID-19 lockdown makes you feel uneasy, you’re not alone.
Here, experts examine the causes behind post-lockdown anxiety, and share tips and techniques to help you navigate through this period.
Post-lockdown anxiety signs
The outbreak of coronavirus has left many of us feeling unsettled, explains Glenys Jackson, clinical lead for Mental Health at Bupa UK, adding that there are a lot of different ways that people can experience post-lockdown anxiety.
According to Jackson, the following might be signs of post-lockdown anxiety:
- feeling worried or stressed about the future
- difficulty sleeping
- feeling tired, irritable or having trouble concentrating
- racing heart (palpitations)
- stomach cramps
- shortness of breath or breathing quickly
Other telltale signs of anxiety include overthinking and excessive rumination, holding yourself back from doing things you’d usually do because of amplified fears, headaches, stomach aches and nausea, says Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
While it’s normal and 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 that your thoughts or behaviours have become excessive, Jackson continues – for example, a bad mood is lasting longer, or you are irritable and your patience is low.
‘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,’ she adds. ‘Nobody likes feeling anxious, so you might find yourself attempting to control, react negatively or ignore any anxiety you feel.’
Post-lockdown anxiety causes
From contracting COVID-19 to concerns about work and money, 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,’ she continues. ‘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 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. There’s been the sense of being in a ‘safe bubble’, so we might feel quite exposed coming out of it.’
This may be especially true you've been working through the pandemic, or if your employers are now re-opening your workplace. ‘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,’ Jackson says.
‘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. If you are struggling with your mental health, it is ok to ask for help. There is often support available inside and outside work.’
How to cope with post-lockdown anxiety
Navigate through 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, says Jackson. ‘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,’ she says. ‘This will give you something to do and promote a sense of satisfaction or enjoyment.’
‘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,’ says Jackson. ‘There’s a lot beyond our control right now, and that can be difficult to accept; practicing acceptance and self-compassion may help to let go of the stresses you can’t control, and free up energy and space in your mind.’
Practice being in the present moment, says 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.’
Manage your news consumption
If what you are reading or listening to is making you feel overwhelmed, turn it off and focus on something else, says Jackson. ‘Be careful about the source of your information; 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
Stay connected to your goals and values in life, says 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
‘Even if it’s just a walk outside, it’s a change of environment and will allow you to get some fresh air,’ Jackson says. ‘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.’
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