For many of us, the easing of COVID-19 lockdown offers long-awaited opportunities – to see friends, play sports, restore interaction with family in 'real space' and return to jobs that we enjoy.
Yet even positive, much awaited improvements can be challenging for our mental well-being.
The prospect of coming out of lockdown when debate is still alive about supporting science can be a real concern, especially for those more vulnerable to the virus and those of those with mental health issues We should be prepared that the end of the lockdown might be as hard for us as the start.
Just like it took us time to find ways to cope during our time at home, we would also expect finding our way back and reconnecting with life and work may not be easy either.
Fear and anxiety may be the most common emotional responses any of us will feel. Finding a way to get ourselves through all of this took a lot of our emotional strength, and we might have reached a position that lets us cope, and we just don't want to leave it.
Many of us fear getting sick with the virus or spreading infection to loved ones as the risk increases when people interact. This is a normal response, but risk can be reduced by following guidelines.
Every time we go back to something, it'll feel unusual or scary. Maybe we're nervous or anxious. That may be because we haven't done it in a while, and we've forgotten how it feels — like working. This could be that circumstances have changed due to the pandemic, and habits have changed – like wearing masks and rules for social distancing in public, and at work.
Recognizing these feelings are natural and anticipating them is crucial. Only by gently building tolerance can we step beyond these fears.
We may feel angry or frustrated with other's behaviors, and feel the urge to rush to judgment or comment on social media reflecting our anxiety. It's good to share concerns with others we trust, but also bear in mind that you can't monitor actions of others, and posting online can lead to unpleasantness very quickly. If you can, express your frustration with someone you trust and then let it go. If we keep things in we can get pulled into rumination – where we chew things in our heads.
For many of us, the pandemic increased our anxiety or aggravated existing mental health issues. It may take longer to adjust to necessary changes wearing face masks that trigger trauma flashbacks, or panic attacks due to feeling unable to breathe.
When possible, do it at your own speed, but try to push yourself to do something new every day or every few days. It's very easy to cause lockdown seclusion to become intentional isolation as lockdown ends. Celebrate small (and big) wins and try to keep a note of what you do.
Lockdown was fairly quiet and isolated for many. Re-entering stores, traffic, transportation, and work can lead to sensory overload – feeling overwhelmed by sights , sounds, or smells. Headphones can be a good way to minimize this by helping you concentrate and creating noise with calls, music, podcasts or audiobooks.
Tips on living with anxiety
Control what can be controlled — there are many things you can't control that cause you to be fearful and anxious — but there are some things you can handle or prepare. Getting an action plan to handle problems you may find challenging will help.
Pace yourself – it's crucial to know you need to go at the right pace. Don't let others intimidate or force you into doing something you don't want to – but try not to let that be an excuse not to push yourself, particularly when it comes to re-connecting safely outside your home with friends.
Create tolerance — try to do something that surprises you every day, or every few days. Don't beat yourself up if it's not going well, just try again. Keep a note of what you've done, appreciated, or changed.
Change your routines – try to vary your routines and see different people and experience new circumstances. When one grocery store is anxious, try another. When a walk at one time of day is really busy, at slower times consider alternating walks with runs.
Talk at work – Most workplaces may still encourage flexible work, even though workers choose to return. If you find it hard to get to work or do different shifts or tasks due to anxiety or fear, speak to your boss or colleague you trust.
There's been a lot of discussion of a 'new normal'—but normal is shifting and volatility, and risk management will be the order of the day for the near future. This isn't easy for all of us, particularly when we're just about dealing with our mental health.
'New normal' for most of us will mean 'what we need to get through today or this week' – it's going to be really hard to foresee what the path would look like the rest of the year, and with too much confusing media coverage, thinking about possibilities and phases without assurance, it's easy to get caught up in 'what-ifs.'
Focusing on the stuff we've learned and accomplished in recent months will help – many of us were challenged in ways we never expected but found new ways to manage — or even thrive. COVID 19 lockdown has challenged our beliefs and what's important to us.
The life, beliefs and behaviors we had in early March may not be the ones we want to return to in June, and we may also have opportunities to make meaningful improvements in our lives. Which are silver linings worth holding on to.
Focus on the moment – with what you have now, you will do your best. With regulations changing frequently, and lots of conflicting media discussions, try to keep the moment focused. Mindfulness meditation is one way to return the mind to this moment.
Get back to reality – while a lot of things are unpredictable at the moment, there are still plenty to hope for. Try recording good things as they happen. Try resetting and relaxing opportunities.
Talk to people you trust — it's important to discuss how you feel. Don't dismiss or judge yourself too harshly. You may also find your tribe online, but also try to get outside perspectives.