Published: 19 August 2021. Written by: Nicky Rampley-Clarke.
Big life changes are finally back on the calendar, with rules and regulations relaxing, but what if that makes us feel anything but? Here, we look at ways of managing the stress brought about by those all-important milestones
In recent history, there has been no more tumultuous time than the last 18 months. Changes have been imposed on us, and often they’ve arrived with little or no warning. Things we spent months planning for – from moving house to getting married – have been pushed back, or worse, canned altogether. All of which has left us feeling exasperated.
Good news, then, that the things we’ve been putting off – those big life moments – are finally back on the cards. But those milestones come with their own stresses after everything we’ve faced. Dr Jane Leonard, a GP who worked on the frontline of Covid-19, says: ‘Anxiety can affect us all at any time, but periods of change in our lives are the most common trigger for a flare-up.’
Here, we look at the big changes some of us may have coming up and reveal how they can be navigated. Because we all deserve a little calm right now – right?
Starting a new job
One of the positives to have come out of the pandemic is that it made many reassess if their job was really making them happy. Did that nine-to-five offer a sense of fulfilment? For some, our career was the first casualty, either by changing direction, going freelance or jacking it in altogether.
At the beginning, we were paralysed by the unknown – an unstable job market, financial insecurity – but as we continue to emerge, we’re becoming more confident about making a change. However, even if the fear of jumping ship during Covid-19 may have subsided, anxieties will always persist around a new role. Lee Biggins, founder and CEO of CV-Library, one of the UK’s largest employment websites, says: ‘Most major life changes can cause stress, but it’s particularly true when starting a new role, as you need to adapt to a new environment and new people.
‘The pressure to perform well and make a good impression can cause worry, especially if you’ve been made redundant or have been working from home due to Covid-19. A great way to target anxiety is to do your research ahead of time. Being well informed about the job sector and role you’re moving into will help you to adapt to new responsibilities and minimise stress.
‘Additionally, be kind to yourself when you start! None of your co-workers will expect you to pick everything up from day one, so give yourself the time to learn what’s expected.
‘Finally, if you’re still struggling on a day-to-day basis, implement small activities such as breathing exercises, meditation or short breaks to keep anxiety under control. Everybody is different, so it may take some trial and error to figure out what works for you.’
With limits on the number of loved ones allowed at our nuptials, many people decided to postpone their weddings. In the UK, we can now commit to getting hitched again as the number cap for attendees has either been relaxed, abolished or left to the venue to assess. But now, with the prospect of tying the knot a reality, the thought of saying ‘I do’ may be overwhelming for some.
Holly Roberts, a counsellor at Relate, the UK charity that provides relationship support, explains why weddings can be anything but blissful: ‘There’s a lot of emotional investment. You’re not only making a lifelong commitment to another person, you’re also involving a lot of other people, which means having to consider their opinions as well as your own. The pressure to have the perfect day also makes it stressful.
‘Try to hold on to the essence of why you’re getting married: to pledge to spend your life with a partner you love,’ she suggests. ‘It helps to get some perspective when things go wrong. Because if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that things probably will! Think about what is causing the stress and whether there’s something you can do about it, or if you need to ask for help. Finally, lean on your partner by sharing your worries. It’s great practice for your future partnership!’
Having a baby
While a baby boom in early 2021 was initially predicted after the first lockdown, there was then a suggestion of a baby bust, with uncertain factors like job security and health risks all playing into our fears. But with increased stability forecast for this summer, some are putting plans for a family back on the agenda.
It can be scary at the best of times, though, particularly for new mothers and especially amidst the aftermath of Covid-19. NCT, the UK’s leading charity for parents, has recently published its top tips for adjusting to life with a new baby, in a bid to help a nation wracked with anxiety over their newborns. These include everything from batch-cooking to accepting offers of help and stockpiling on sleep.
Elizabeth Duff, senior policy advisor at NCT, says: ‘It’s really important that pregnant women and new parents who feel anxious or overwhelmed access the support they need. Sticking to reliable, evidence-based information can help, and our website is being kept up to date with the latest guidance. It includes lots of tips on coping with isolation, staying active, and has a specific article about dealing with anxiety over coronavirus. We also provide an infant feeding support line, online courses and social groups run by our network of volunteers.’
Meanwhile, Marley Hall, pregnancy, birth and parenting expert, says: ‘Prepare during pregnancy. Do things like prepare meals and freeze them in advance, so you won’t need to cook in those early days. Ask friends and family to help out by running errands, if need be. This means you can just concentrate on your new baby.
‘Look out for groups of other people who are also new parents. You may find it beneficial to chat through concerns and problems you might be facing with others who are going through the same thing. If things really get on top of you, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help from a health professional.’
Guidance from the government on moving house wasn’t published until well into the first lockdown, meaning existing anxieties around buying and selling were inflamed, with many deciding to stay put until the pandemic passed. But buying and selling are back in full swing, with the property market on course to be the busiest in 14 years. The introduction of the stamp-duty holiday, government guarantees for mortgages and a race to the country from cities are all credited. But it’s not going to be stress free. Tim Bannister, Rightmove’s director of property data, explains that organisation is key to easing your anxieties: ‘When buying a home, getting your mortgage in principle ready, even if you haven’t found the home for you yet, can save valuable time and put you in good stead for the rest of the journey.
‘If selling a home, find an agent who knows and has sold homes in the area, and get a property valuation booked in with at least two agents. Even if you’re buying, striking up a good relationship with the agent is a great move, as they have the experience to answer any questions you’re likely to have.
‘Finally, moving home involves several steps for buyers and sellers, so it’s important you get your house in order. For example, when selling, you’ll need your HM Land Registry title and gas/electric documents, amongst others. Knowing what you need to prepare beforehand is a sure way to make the whole process smoother.’
Control your response
With advice to hand for some of the changes on the horizon, it’s not to say that you’ll suddenly feel completely calm about the future, as there are still plenty of unknowns. Dr Leonard explains: ‘Uncertainty fuels anxiety. Ease your symptoms by recognising you can’t control what is uncertain but can control your response to it.
‘Self-care is essential during times of anxiety, and looking after your body and mind will improve your ability to cope with stress and anxiety. Things like getting enough sleep, exercising – which releases endorphins, our very own natural stress-busters – meditating and being mindful all help. Share your concerns with trusted sources, too. Factor in regular breaks during the day. Write down your worries! And avoid drugs and alcohol – many people turn to them during times of anxiety but they only exacerbate underlying feelings. Finally, talk to your GP, that’s what we’re here for!’