The Covid-19 pandemic has led to heightened levels of anxiety over the last 12 months, both during lockdown and when restrictions have been eased. With society set to open up again in the coming months many people will feel anxious about the new freedoms and social pressures that come with this. ieso's Clinical Partnership Manager, Emily Marshall outlines below five things to consider and coping mechanisms.
1) Notice your emotions; all are welcome here
As we move into the next stage of the lockdown and start to think about being able to socialise again, it’s understandable that you may have mixed emotions. You may feel happy and excited that we can start to meetup with friends and family we have not seen in a long time, anxious and nervous about the virus and our vulnerabilities, and perhaps sad and low about the things we have missed out on over the past year. You may even feel all these things at the same time! It’s okay to allow yourself to feel these and other emotions during this transition period.
Try to take the stance of an outside observer, notice without judgement (positive or negative). Allow yourself to slow down as you do so. You might find it helpful if you can take a moment to pause and sit with the emotion before moving on with your day.
2) Routine building; preparing for lockdown easing
Good mental wellbeing is built on solid foundations of basic lifestyle. Take some time to consider your own. Let’s start with sleeping/waking. Consider your bedtime routine. Do you allow yourself time to wind down without screens? Do you feel relaxed as you lay down in bed? If you are thinking “Nope, that does not sound like me” you might find it helpful to read about sleep hygiene and mull over what principles you can start to apply over the coming weeks.
Consider how your life will change as we move out of lockdown. Will you have to start getting up earlier? Making small changes to the time you get up (15 mins earlier per week for example) will add up to an easier transition overall.
“What about exercise?” I hear you cry! Lockdown in winter has certainly made exercise a challenge. The main thing is doing something to move your body, whatever that may be. As lockdown restrictions ease, we should also see incidental exercise increase, these are little and regular activities that build up over the course of the day, such as taking the stairs, walking to or from a train station, and popping to the shops. If you can start incorporating more trips outside into your routine now, you will feel more comfortable and even fitter when restrictions ease.
Lastly is diet. Take a moment to reflect on your eating habits; have they changed during lockdown? For the better or worse? Are you eating regular meals, trying to incorporate fruit and vegetables where possible? Again, making small, manageable changes to improving your diet will help in the long run.
3) Managing the change
Let’s fast forward a couple of months. The time has nearly come when we can meet with friends and family in a way that feels almost normal. Your friend texts you “Let’s meet for coffee!”. Rather than excitement, you feel dread.
It’s important to come back to that big emotional soup we talked about earlier. It’s OK to feel these emotions, it’s understandable. It’s equally OK for others to feel differently about it. You only have control over your own behaviour, and others can only support you if they understand what fears you have. No one can read your mind. Share your fears and concerns with trusted friends and make adaptations to ease back into the things that make you anxious.
If meeting inside for a coffee (when allowed) feels too much, start in a garden or outdoor space Try this out for a couple of times until you feel more comfortable then re-evaluate. Go at your own pace and allow others to go at theirs – but always keep moving towards the things in life that are important to you.
4) Plan for tomorrow today
Lockdown has been a huge strain on mental wellbeing for most people. You don’t need me to explain why, we have all lived it. You can start to plan for the easing of lockdown restrictions now in a few simple ways.
Start reconnecting to those you may have lost touch with. Things that are new and novel quickly lose their shine; I wonder how many of you started lockdown constantly messaging friends, hosting zoom quizzes and escape rooms, and how many of you are still doing this? If this resonates with you I would invite you to start gradually getting more contact in with those you want to reconnect with in person when you can.
Think also about the places you want to visit, either old favourites or new adventures. Write these things down, keep a note of them to come back to when you can. As things become more concrete you can turn your ideas into plans with dates and times.
5) It’s OK to ask for help
Asking for help and support may look very different to different people. You may want to confide in a person who you trust with your feelings. You may wish to speak with your GP or seek help from a therapist.
If you are reading this and thinking “I am too anxious to do that” or “I would just not have the motivation to get going” then reaching out for some help might well be the most important step for you in preparing to adjust to life in the coming months.
Explore how CBT helps us to manage our feelings.