Earlier this year, the government announced a four-step "roadmap" to steer the country out of lockdown and ultimately, dispose of all COVID-related rules. Today, 'Freedom Day' is finally upon us. And it's okay if you're not feeling overjoyed about the whole thing...
Wearing a face mask is no longer a legal requirement (but is still heavily encouraged and could be made mandatory in some places - Tesco, for example, have asked that all customers wear a mask in-store if they can) and nightclubs are once again open. The rule-of-six and social distancing (in most places) is no more, and weddings and funerals will no longer have a heavily restricted guest list. Offices are set to get busier again, too.
Whilst some are fantasising about diving headfirst into a sweaty, crowded dance floor and hugging their pals with wild abandonment, others are feeling more apprehensive at the thought of readjusting to life after lockdown (as well as – quite fairly – not wanting to put all their eggs in a Boris-shaped basket, especially as Covid cases are continuing to rise). There are also people who cannot receive the vaccine, or who are immunocompromised and still at risk of falling severely unwell if they catch coronavirus, and it's important to keep those folk in mind, too.
If you're feeling anxious about the unlocking, please know that firstly, you aren't alone and secondly, there are steps you can take to make this transitional process feel less daunting, says psychologist Nadia Svirydzenka, who is also a lecturer at the De Montfort University in Leicester.
Here's how to cope with fears surrounding life after lockdown rules:
Is it normal to feel worried about Covid rules ending and 'normal' life returning?
"Going back to ‘new’ old routines will feel unusual and can even make us fearful, anxious, frustrated, angry or nervous," Dr Svirydzenka explains. "Especially as we've moved so far from what 'normal' was for us before COVID."
The expert notes that it's important to try and understand our now-established patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling. "Throughout the pandemic, we've developed new habits in response to keeping safe with the increased threat of COVID, as well as managing our expectations and emotions when it comes to lack of social contact and pre-COVID opportunities, such as travelling and exploring our interests."
Dr Svirydzenka says that when those patterns are challenged by the easing of restrictions and re-opening of work and social spaces, it can be tough. "It will definitely take time to adjust (much like it took us time to adjust to living in lockdown). So, no matter how exciting and hopeful, changes and new opportunities can always give us a sense of apprehension."
She adds that the glorified visions of everything instantly snapping back to how it was in 2019 may not be all that realistic either, and it's something to be mindful of, "Expecting that it will all go back to the exact same way it was before COVID is setting unrealistic expectations and will only lead to further feelings of disappointment, frustration, and even anger."
It's especially tricky as the risk surrounding Covid also hasn't completely vanished, so there are still habits (e.g. wearing a mask and using anti-bac gel) that won't be going away any time soon – and for good reason. While the term 'Freedom Day' sounds pretty black and white, our reality still, sadly, isn't.
Reactions will vary from person to person, Dr Svirydzenka notes, saying that some people will want to jump into new opportunities headfirst, whereas others will be more reluctant and may even avoid all social contact for a while – and it's important to be mindful and respectful of whatever other people (friends and family included) are feeling.
How can I feel less worried about COVID restrictions ending?
Go at your own pace
"By this point, we're all too familiar with threats of a 'new wave' and even as vaccinations have been rolled out, further mutations may occur – we're not promised the same safety as a world without COVID that we would wish to return to," says Dr Svirydzenka. She advises taking these rule changes and opportunities at your own speed, and ignoring any pressure from those around you who may be going at a quicker pace.
We're all likely to be a tad rusty when it comes to socialising too, she notes, and that bustling streets might feel overly loud (which our bodies can interpret as a threat). "Socialising always has the potential to make us feel apprehensive, now there's the added uncertainty about how to handle some interactions safely too. We don't want to offend anyone, or overstep safety boundaries still in effect." It is important to remember though, Dr Svirydzenka says, that all of these are reasonable concerns and can be tackled with planning.
Avoid making comparisons
Dr Svirydzenka also says that while comparing ourselves to others is common and very normal psychologically, it likely won't be helpful in these circumstances. "Talk to trusted others about how you're feeling," she recommends. "Equally, being accepting and non-judgemental with yourself and others as you go through this process will be crucial."
Prepare to be flexible
"While there's hope for a new normal, where our lives regain a sense of pre-COVID normality, we also need to acknowledge that we will be going through the process of community-wide healing from the trauma of loss that we have experienced," Dr Svirydzenka explains, adding that our expectations need to follow suit. "Our new normal is about being flexible and continuously adjusting to uncertainty, and while this is inherently uncomfortable for us, it's something we need to learn to cope with for our own wellbeing."
She recommends limiting how far into the future you plan (e.g. look at what's happening week-to-week, as opposed to months in advance) to give a better sense of control and limit disappointment. "Focusing on the present will be an effective way of managing expectations and help to prevent dwelling too much on the 'what-ifs' of the unpredictable future."
"Reconnect gradually, start with those you really trust and slowly scale up," Dr Svirydzenka advises. "Negotiating locations, deciding when to wear a mask, hugging – all of these things will be a hit and miss for you, and it's important not to be too hard on yourself as you get out more. Aim to learn and try again."
Social connections are vital to our sense of wellbeing and mental health, she adds. "Not only do they fulfil a fundamental psychological need to belong, but they also give us support, they bring us joy, and they help us make meaning of our lives and everyday experiences. Human contact, touch and hugs, not just seeing faces via Zoom or FaceTime, is essential for our happiness." So don't forget to check in on your friends who have health conditions and who may not feel comfortable (or be able to) join in with events too.
Create to a healthy lifestyle
Creating a positive routine that includes exercise and getting fresh air, healthy food, sleep, asking for help when necessary and maintaining social connections and communicating with people is a good idea. "These ingredients haven't changed and will be key to our mental health and wellbeing post-Covid rules, just as much as they were during [and before]," says Dr Svirydzenka. "Not relying on alcohol for mood boost is also important. For some, these lifestyle choices might have slipped in lockdown, so taking this time to reset can be crucial."
Deep breath, everyone! Let's take it slow and steady. ❤️
You Might Also Like