Lockdown life has been defined by its stages. First came disbelief: They really expect us to stay indoors at all times without going insane? Then came embittered acceptance: Yes, yes they do. Next up was tentative excitement: Wow, we’re allowed in parks again? Right on! And finally, anxiety: I can go to the pub? Um, is that such a good idea?
This final phase has been prompted by the further easing of restrictions, with great swathes of the British economy given the green light to reopen. Non-essential shops, bars, restaurants, hair and nail salons, hotels – all the things that we missed so desperately while under house arrest – are back on the table. Only, now that they’re back, there’s a creeping worry that our finely tuned routines, cultivated during the relative peace of lockdown, might evaporate overnight.
Not everyone’s story has followed the same pattern, but for many, working remotely or being furloughed meant there was extra time to be spent on self-care – time for exercise, cooking and meditation, time for a long-neglected hobby, time for family and loved ones. The switching off of jam-packed social lives saw a slackening of pace that was, potentially, a relief.
“I’m anxious about going back to the commute, it’s within those two hours each day that I have achieved self-care by reading, exercising, waking up naturally, and sitting with breakfast rather than at my desk,” says trainee education mental health practitioner Tay. “I’m concerned that I will fall back into the trap of having to be productive all of the time.”
She isn’t alone in wanting to ditch the commute – according to a survey of nearly 7,000 UK workers conducted by Totaljobs, 42 per cent want to continue working from home indefinitely, while a fifth would even be willing to take a 7 per cent pay cut if it meant they could stay working remotely.
Giulia Basana, a multimedia journalist, agrees that getting back on the treadmill of normal life is daunting: “Life before lockdown was much too hectic. I learnt to slow things down during this period and I wouldn’t like to go back to the chaotic life I had before.”
The lifting of lockdown has already made travel writer Caoilfhionn Rose feel like things are slipping out of her control. “I feel really anxious about it and can already feel my work-life balance disappearing,” she says. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for people with children.”
According to the experts, it’s perfectly natural to feel this way. “A lot of clients have been using this as a place of retreat and nourishment,” says happiness consultant and changemaker Samantha Clarke. “Those that could lean in to work, or find new hobbies, or even were on furlough – lockdown gave people the space to ask some deeper questions that they might have been ignoring.”
Many of Samantha’s clients have reported feeling worried that they could end up launching back into the status quo and letting go of “the rituals and routines that kept them steady”.
“It’s too easy to just fall into the busyness of life and lose of sight of what you really want,” she says. But life doesn’t have to revert to the pre-pandemic chaos – not if you don’t want it to. We asked the experts for their top tips on holding onto the best bits of the lockdown slow-down.
Know that you’re not alone
Anxiety can make us feel isolated – first off, remind yourself that it’s not just you who is nervous about entering the “real world” again.
“Most people are feeling this way,” says life coach and author of Reinvent Yourself, Fiona Harrold. “We’ve just had the biggest break from our normal routine in our lifetime. The majority of people don’t want to go back to the office; they’ve got used to this new way of living, with more time to reflect and exercise.
“Acknowledge that it’s not only you – it’s normal.”
Before re-immersing yourself in something resembling your pre-pandemic life, the first step is to identify what you appreciated under lockdown.
“Take the time to audit your pillars of happiness,” says Clarke. “Ask yourself: how do I feel within myself; what was I doing during this time where I felt a change in my posture, my mindset, my confidence; where was I building and growing in relationships, and where did I feel we’d outgrown each other?”
Clarke suggests also reflecting on work, and looking at how you feel about your company and colleagues – particularly in relation to how you were treated during lockdown. It’s an opportunity to reassess all the big decisions of life: are you in the right relationship? Are you happy in the place that you live?
You could write down your discoveries, or just spend some time with yourself thinking it over. The main thing is to start questioning what makes you happy.
“It’s important to take a pause and breathe; to figure out and listen to the things that you want,” says Clarke.
Figure out your non-negotiables
“What do you really want to carry forward into your future life?” asks Harrold. “There will be things that you feel you just have to keep going.”
For many, one of those elements might be exercise. “I’ve loved exercising instead of being stuck in traffic,” says Tay, while publicist Firgas Esack says: “We’ve been paddleboarding most afternoons. It’s been really nice.”
Others might have stumbled upon a whole new passion while at home. Actor Jonny Vickers says baking has become an unexpected motivational tool during lockdown. “The methodical process, coupled with the need to step away from my desk at least once an hour to tend to it, has been in a very small way quite transformative for me,” he says.
Learn to let go
On the flip side, there will also be things that featured in your pre-lockdown life that you now feel compelled to cast aside.
An audit helps you see what you love, but also what you need to leave behind, says Clarke.
“Know that it’s OK to let go of those things,” she says. “It might be friendships which are no longer helpful to either of you. It might be stronger boundaries when it comes to what you need going forward.”
Harrold agrees: “What do you not want to carry forward? There’ll be one or two things that you go, ‘No, I can’t do that anymore’. Honour that feeling.”
Once you’ve decided on the things you need to hang onto or leave behind, it’s key to take steps to ensure it actually happens.
“Immediately take action,” advises Harrold. “Otherwise you can feel quite low, because you feel like you’re losing that thing that’s really important to you.”
She cites herself as an example – during lockdown, she set up a coaching club offering Facebook Live sessions every day. Spurred on by the sense of community, Harrold has committed to starting a regular “Be your own life coach book club” going forward in order to maintain and nurture that feeling of connection to a bigger support network.
Just say no
Part of carving a new life that holds onto the positive changes made during lockdown is learning to set boundaries – which, in reality, means learning to say no sometimes.
“Getting more confident with saying no is the first part of the equation,” says Clarke. “Keep a ‘yes’ diary of everything you did pre-lockdown and are doing post-lockdown. Look at it and identify what things in it fill you with joy.”
She adds that saying no is about empowering yourself, not belittling others. “Look at whether this or that activity is pushing you further from who you want to be – ask yourself, ‘Is this where I want to invest my money or my time?’ We can afford to start being more discerning about that now.”