When Boris Johnson laid out his ‘roadmap to normality’, there was an immediate feeling of excitement and relief, which was quickly joined by anxiety and fear. Memes were filling up my Instagram feed showing the nation throwing a big old knees-up on June 21st, the day that all social restrictions are planned to be lifted. I felt immediate panic and an urgency to make plans, to ensure I wouldn’t be getting FOMO on the day.
I quickly learnt that I wasn’t the only one feeling like this; after living in this pandemic-driven world, what we used to know as normal now feels somewhat abnormal. The thought of getting back on a packed rush hour tube, having endless social commitments and just simply being around other people again can feel unnerving.
Whilst we are, of course, desperate to see our friends, there’s sometimes a part of us that enjoys staying home with no obligation to attend someone’s birthday and being able to finish work with nothing to do but put on a face mask and watch Married at First Sight Australia.
“There are definitely going to be challenges for people easing back into their ‘normal’ routine post-Covid,” says psychotherapist Ruairí Stewart (AKA ‘The Whole Happy Coach‘). “The fear and anxiety associated with coronavirus and the restrictions won’t dissipate overnight, and this has been a collective trauma we’ve experienced as a society.
“The full scope of this won’t be understood for some time, but prolonged isolation, lockdown and financial stress will have serious implications on mental health and it’s likely some people will struggle to adapt and move through their anxiety for some time after things open up.”
So, how can we prepare to renter into a world recovering from the global pandemic and let go of any social anxiety/fear around it?
Remember you still get to choose
Many of us, pre-pandemic, were locked in that cycle of feeling that we had to have plans to feel that we were still relevant or to prove how busy we were to ourselves and others. We went to countless meetings for the sake of meetings and we said yes to attending events we didn’t want to go to just because we didn’t felt we had to.
But we aren’t the people we were in Feb 2020. If nothing else, we now have complete clarity of the things we ACTUALLY miss and the things that we are glad we don’t have to do anymore.
Remember that as we head back into the ‘real world’, we can choose which parts we bring back into our lives. Prefer to have a meeting over Zoom? Say so. Don’t feel like going? Don’t. Prefer to do prioritise self-care over drinking with your friends on the weekend? Honour that.
I would encourage you all to get your favourite journal out and write down a comprehensive list of the all the things you are excited to do again and all the things that you want to leave behind. This will help serve as a reminder that you are in control of what you choose to do and how you spend your time.
Remember that this is your chance to reshape your life to be exactly what YOU want and how you want to live it. So honour that and take a deep breath. You got this!
Choose your own speed
Everyone will ease back into things at a difference pace. Trust your instincts and do what feels right for you; simply taking away the pressure to go out the minute that restrictions are lifted will immediately help to ease any feelings of overwhelm. If the thought of going to a busy and packed bar makes you feel uneasy, then start with meeting just a few friends and work your way up at a pace that suits you!
Ruairí backs this up: “You aren’t expected to be totally comfortable transitioning out of lockdown,” he says. “Allow yourself some compassion as you adjust to all the changes in your life – starting with really small, manageable changes is one of the best things you can do.
“You may not have the capacity to adjust to a lot of change at once, so it is really important to check your expectations and focus on small, incremental changes being introduced gradually to help you adapt.”
During this time, we have all found new ways to connect with family and friends online or discovered new ways to spend our time at home. When we begin heading back into normality, we can worry that we will then lose some of the parts of lockdown that we genuinely love and enjoy. So make an effort to stay connected to these things that make you feel good: keep the weekly family quiz night locked in the diary or keep making that banana bread every week if that is what makes your heart (and home) feel cosy and warm!
Try mindfulness techniques
“It is important to allow yourself to move through any anxiety you feel,” Ruairí says. “Breathing techniques, breath work and meditation are powerful ways to help calm and centre yourself, alongside challenging your negative, fear based self-talk. Doing this for a few minutes each day can be incredibly calming.
Ruairí also points out the importance of forward-planning. “Planning ahead is also a way you can empower yourself. This could be planning your route to work, being knowledgeable about what changes have been implemented in your workplace, and being aware so you can adapt easier to this transition.”
If you are really struggling to cope, please reach out to a mental health professional.
Acknowledge your anxiety
Remember that it’s okay to be experience anxiety about returning to normality. “This is normal and to be expected; the important thing is to challenge anxious thoughts around safety or ‘worst case scenarios’ and replace them with something more positive, resourceful and balanced,” says Ruairí.
“Anxiety is strengthened with avoidance, so give yourself the strength and permission to face challenging situations head on. Move through the discomfort and know that the more you do this, the easier it will become. Try to shift your perspective to the things that are under your control – wearing a mask, communicating your feelings or concerns to others, planning your commute in advance, or simply limiting your news or social media consumption – until you begin to feel a bit more centred.”
No matter what you are feeling, someone else will be feeling the same. Share your worries with a friend or family member and keep an open dialogue.
“It is so important you allow yourself to communicate so you can be supported and know that you don’t have to tough this out on your own,” adds Ruairí.