Published: 9 April 2021. Written by: Jo Usmar
Feeling anxious about lockdown lifting? You’re not alone. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with the new normal and way of life. For once extroverts and introverts are in complete agreement – while the prospect of the world opening up again is fantastic, it’s also anxiety-provoking for some. Even the most gregarious of people will be forgiven for wondering just what the ‘new normal’ will look like and how they’ll be expected to feel and act within it.
No wonder, then, that UK mental-health charities are flagging up the potential emotional repercussions. Rosie Weatherley, an information content manager at Mind, told The Guardian: ‘Some of us might have found there were some unexpected plus points to lockdown – and therefore feel uneasy or anxious at the prospect of it being lifted. For example, we may be worried about “normality” resuming, or not wanting to return to a faster pace with busier daily lives, and less downtime to ourselves.’
There’s also concern surrounding the possibility of further lockdowns in the future, and the fact that people with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression or PTSD, will suddenly be faced with a change in routine, structure and expectations.
However, there are some simple things you can do to ease yourself into this new world without feeling overwhelmed. Here’s your ‘new normal’ coping guide.
How to deal with crowded spaces
Feeling worried about being surrounded by people after a pandemic is a totally normal and natural response. However, it is not necessarily agoraphobia – according to the NHS, that’s a ‘fear of being in a situation where escape might be difficult or help wouldn’t be available if something went wrong’. It’s common for agoraphobics to worry about having a panic attack in such circumstances, which adds to their overall anxiety. (If you feel this way and find yourself avoiding going outside, speak to your GP.)
Because public spaces have been genuinely dangerous health-wise for the past 12 months, feeling wary about them is to be expected. ‘This is really an imprint of fear about our survival,’ says US psychiatrist Amit Anand. ‘It’s going to take some time to relinquish that. Each person needs to be compassionate with themselves about what their process is going to look like. Someone who lost a loved one from Covid will probably have a different process than someone who seemed to be less affected by this historic, unprecedented event.’
Don’t feel pressured to do something you’re not ready to do. Acknowledge that acclimatising will take time – there may even be things you currently feel you never want to do again, like going clubbing or to a gig. If you do find yourself in a situation you find overwhelming, practising deep breathing can help calm any rising panic: breathe in slowly, deeply and gently through your nose and out through your mouth, steadily counting to five on each inhale and exhale. When you feel calmer physically, you’ll be better placed mentally to look for a quieter place.
It can also be beneficial to ride out the feelings (remaining where you are) to prove to yourself that you can cope with the situation. Telling a friend how you feel and asking them to stay with you while you breathe through it can also help. In general, continue to practise safety measures that make you feel less anxious, like wearing a mask, maintaining distance and carrying hand sanitiser.
Remember, also, you are allowed to say no to attending events. This is an unprecedented situation and there’s no rule book regarding how you should feel. Be honest, open and polite: ‘Thanks so much for the invite, but I’m still not feeling comfortable attending events of that size. Let’s meet up one-on-one next week instead.’ You don’t have to justify yourself or get into an argument. If people push, say: ‘I appreciate your position so I hope you’ll appreciate mine.’
How to navigate travel again
Experiencing post-pandemic travel anxiety is understandable – we’ve been told repeatedly for a year that the more we move around, the more we risk becoming exposed to the virus. However, there are ways to ease your mind with the ‘new normal’ of travelling.
Car journeys are less Covid-risky when only travelling with your ‘bubble’ (find out more about car-sharing rules here). If you’re renting a car, wipe down any ‘touch points’ – including the door handles, steering wheel and gearbox – before driving.
When it comes to public transport, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has plenty of sound advice on using public transport. A good tip is to go first thing in the morning as planes, trains and buses will have been cleaned and disinfected overnight. Open any windows if you can to improve air circulation (not advisable on a plane!); on boats, stand outside on the deck; and avoid eating or drinking until you’ve arrived at your destination (so you can keep your mask on and limit contact with surfaces). Check the websites of privately owned service providers to make sure you feel comfortable with the precautions they’re taking, use hand sanitiser and always wear a mask when in communal travel-hub spaces.
One of the best ways to get from A to B right now is by bike – it’s naturally well-ventilated and socially distanced, plus it’s convenient, especially for shorter journeys. Investing in a bike and brushing up on your cycling skills can also help you stay fit – just make sure you’re up-to-date on the rules of who you’re allowed to cycle with. If you’re renting a bike, sanitise the handles before and after you ride. Some health experts also recommend you still wear a mask, so consider buying one specifically designed for exercise.
If you’re considering going abroad, the government’s travel advice page is a must-read so you know the rules for both arriving at and departing from your destination. At current the guidelines state that no international travel is allowed, so be sure to keep checking to Government guidelines on when you can travel again and what the rules around travelling abroad are.
Eating out in restaurants
The ‘fear of eating out’ is real. As one food writer, Jacob Dean, wrote last year: ‘Dining out is now an exercise in hypervigilance. Did the person at the table across from us just cough? Is our server wearing gloves? Should they be wearing gloves? Should we? The anxieties are endless.’
While wanting to patronise your favourite local snug brasserie as soon as it’s allowed is admirable, if you’re feeling worried about eating with others in enclosed spaces, take things slow. Use the fine spring weather to your advantage and suggest going somewhere with a terrace instead.
Picnics and beach BBQs also tick the ‘get outside’ and ‘communal eating’ boxes while allowing for social distancing. If your friends still insist on a cosy tête-à-tête, call the restaurant ahead and ask about the precautions in place: what distance is kept between tables? What is the maximum number of guests per party? What is the policy on masks and hygiene? If you’re still uncomfortable, you can support the establishment by ordering a takeaway instead. Your friends will understand.
Coping with less downtime
There have been some positives to lockdown and one of those is definitely having more downtime. The world seemed to slow down and, by necessity, so did we. The thought that it’ll speed up again and we’ll lose the time we found for ourselves – however we spent it – will be worrying for many.
Some ways to ensure you maintain any new-found equilibrium includes booking time in for yourself in your diary. Prioritise it like you would a business meeting. This will encourage you not to sacrifice it or dismiss it as unimportant.
Also, consider getting up earlier and taking a fake commute, even if you’re still working from home. Use this time to do things just for yourself: listen to a podcast or music, take some photos of cool things around town – anything that isn’t doomscrolling, working or socialising.
If you’re feeling in extra need of some downtime, take a look at the 7 types of rest you could benefit from as lockdown eases. The perfect way to find ways to rest as you are adjusting to the new normal.
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