Lockdown restrictions are slowly but surely easing. Life as we’ve known it for the last 3 months is again changing. The last 12 weeks have been filled with uncertainty and has forced us to adapt and change our living patterns like never before.
It has also been drilled into each and every one of us (well, most) that if we leave our house, we are putting ourselves and everyone else at risk of infection of a potentially deadly disease. So, if you’re worried about lockdown easing, I don’t blame you.
The negative mental health impacts lockdown had upon 65% of the population has been widely reported since lockdown began. Therefore, it is only natural that we are going to see these mental health impacts come out of lockdown with that person.
You may have finally figured out a way to cope with life during lockdown that you actually might not be ready to leave yet. However, uncomfortable and unwanted lockdown may have been, it may have subconsciously (and consciously) become your safe ‘place.’ On the other hand, it may have become a place whereby it created or worsened mental health issues.
A recent survey found that 80% of respondents said lockdown negatively affected their well-being. 43% of these are anxious that they will not be sufficiently protected from the virus when restrictions ease.
Experts have also said that the effects of social distancing through lockdown, however necessary, will contribute to a rise in cases of agoraphobia – which is the phobia of being in open and public spaces. These are just a couple of examples of how the lockdown will continue to impact us mentally even as normalcy starts to arrive.
Lockdown is being incrementally eased, but however slight the ease in restrictions may seem, the difference to everyday living is huge. We are having to once again adapt, but we won’t be running out on the streets and hugging our mates and relatives.
Instead, we will be having rendezvous with our nearest and dearest from a fear-filled distance, as we clock eyes on them for the first time in what is, for most, around 100 days. Our urge to hug our sisters, mothers and new grandchildren, or kiss our estranged spouses and partners will be equipped with the poignant fear of ‘will my germs kill them, or will their germs kill me?
This dichotomy of wanting to embrace our loved ones but the fear of being within 10 feet of them is the perfect recipe of ‘2020 Syndrome’ – that state of being highly unsure of what to do, of being stuck between a rock and a hard place of what is right, wrong, and downright selfish.
We have been almost brainwashed into thinking certain activities we once enjoyed are now ‘bad.’ Think of going to a pub and socialising (spreading germs through cramped airborne spaces and drinking out of cups 1,568 people have drunk out of that week.)
Or going to the cinema (spending over two hours in the same room with strangers, with no windows, sunlight or ventilation.) Another thing the government is telling us to do is spend our money at restaurants and food establishments – there are even incentives for us like coupons and vouchers.
We all understand why we’re being encouraged to return to ‘normal.’ To boost the economy and inject some capitalism back into a country hit by stagnancy and social nihilism. Although we understand, it doesn’t make it easy for our emotions, anxieties, and subconscious.
We were suddenly forced to render socialising, eating out, spending more than 120 seconds within 2 metres of other people as inherently bad, selfish, and downright stupid. So, forgive us for not wanting to suddenly jump on a bus and order an appetiser, main and dessert from a chain restaurant where 50 other people have brought their germs.
We will be entering what has been coined as the ‘new normal’ and it has been reported the most common feeling about this is anxiety and fear. Our belief systems and emotions have been polarised from what was instilled three months ago in our minds.
We have settled for less (less spending, fewer people, less outside, less being humans in the 21st century) and now more are suddenly being asked of us. Is this more than we can cope with?
Fear and anxiety have been the most common feelings among the general population during lockdown and now the easing of it. But fear and anxiety tend to manifest in rather destructive ways if not handled and worked through.
Supermarkets are overwhelming at the best of times, and with the strict new rules and guidelines in place it can take a lot of mental strength to even turn up to do some shopping – mask and gloves on and all. A great way to ease this overwhelming of the senses is to create a calming or fun playlist and shop with your headphones in.
Try shopping at a time you know is going to be less busy. Plan your shop ahead by writing a list, with the layout of that specific shop in mind so you don’t have to keep backtracking between the isles and being the source of group hate from other shoppers.
Everything has been uncertain, from how far we can actually travel, to how many times we’re allowed out of the house, to being unsure if we’re actually really allowed to be outside. But everything has always been uncertain, that’s the way the world works.
Uncertainty just hasn’t been brought to the forefront. If you think about how easy it would be for an individual to be involved in a fatal road traffic collision, or be diagnosed with a terminal illness. We’re far from comparing lockdown easing from these life-altering instances.
But for the sake of argument, remembering that there is so much uncertainty and danger in living (crossing the road, drinking alcohol, breathing in second hand smoke) really does put things into perspective. For a while, the ‘new normal’ might just mean figuring out how to navigate the week in front of us and eliminate one tiny risk at a time.
Focusing on the present and what is happening now will take your mind away from the infinite scenarios of what may happen in the future. It is easier said than done, but it could be of real help if practised.
It’s important to remember that although social lives can resume under a new normal set of guidelines, not everyone will be able to see their mates like others. Remember that people may be living with the vulnerable or may have an underlying condition themselves and so will have to remain shielded for a while longer.
Remember to keep up contact with these people who may feel more isolated now others are able to go out and about and they may feel they are essentially going through lockdown alone.
Many had the challenges of isolation plus caring for children. A study found that those living with children had higher stress levels than those who do not and that lockdown easement may help this significantly.
By the same token children and parents may now be too accustomed to this way of life and find the normal life a bit of a challenge. There may be worries that there will be considerably less quality time together.
Children – particularly toddlers – may have a level of separation anxiety that may need to be addressed. It’s important to implement this quality time into the new normal.
Unfortunately, many people will have experienced grief during the lockdown period, but also as we come out of it. Grief with the added stress of not being able to attend funerals or say goodbye to a loved one or have anything to distract or help you cope. It has been unfathomable.
As we emerge from lockdown it is vitally important we check up on these people. Lockdown may be nearly over but their grief isn’t. It may not have even been worked through at all, with the circumstances being too traumatic. A socially distanced chat may do them the world of good.
So, if we are going to prioritise our mental health, this gives us the opportunity to learn how intrinsically linked our bodies and mind are. More specifically, the impact a healthy diet can potentially have upon a person’s mental health.
People usually seek comfort from processed foods full of refined sugars when it’s probably not the thing our bodies really need. A study found that those who ate a more balanced and healthy diet generally had better well-being than those who didn’t.
As we are being encouraged to shop more, especially locally, why not try downloading some new recipes, or treating yourself to a new cookbook from the bookshop that’s just opened? Educating yourself on how to cook properly not only fills you with the right nutrients.
Cooking can also be a means of relaxation after a stressful day, and also gives a sense of self-worth. Figuring out how to host a socially distanced BBQ (maybe try perfecting finger food or appetisers) would benefit you and those friends you’ve been missing.
At the end of the day, experts and psychologists can instil you with new tips and tricks on how to navigate what we all know is the weirdest era of our lives. But it all comes down to us.
Believing that we can get through this is the first step, and remembering that despite the many deaths and horrible economic circumstances, lockdown has actually brought us some new Stoicism, pragmatic schools of thought, and other benefits.
Below we have listed the top 5 tips on how to deal with lockdown ending:
It’s the cliché motto of don’t worry about what you cannot control’ but cliché s are vs for a reason. It is essential that we practice this right now.
Look at the positives in what you can control, you may even find there’s a lot more than you can control than initially thought. This will switch the mind’s thinking; yes, we cannot control the virus, we also can’t control the rules we now have to live by, but we can control many other aspects of our lives.
You don’t need to do everything all at once; one day you may want to see if you can handle going to the supermarket, the next maybe a socially distanced meet up with a friend and so on. Just like we had to gradually ease into lockdown, we have to do the same with getting back to the new normal.
Gratitude has been said to be the antidote to anxiety; it pulls the mind away from everything you haven’t got, everything that could go wrong and flips it over and says but what has gone right?’ what have I got?’. Try journaling this each day whenever you have time and see the clarity and difference it makes to your state of anxiety.
It may have felt like you were grounded by the government, not allowed to see your friends and confined to your house, but no, I’m not on about that sort of grounding.
I’m talking about grounding exercises’ – this is whereby you bring your mind to the attention of your sense in a positive way, instead of an over-stimulated way.
What can you smell at this moment? Name 5 things you can see? What can you taste? What can you hear? This brings the mind away from the panic and slowly calms your mind.
Think about the change you encountered and the ways you had to adapt in order to cope with lockdown. You were told at one point that the only circumstances you could leave your house were to work if you can’t work from home, to exercise for an hour and to shop for essential items.
You essentially lost all normal freedom. You couldn’t see friends, relatives, colleagues. You got through all of that. You can absolutely get through now.
It’s imperative that any new hobby or habit we picked up during lockdown to help with our mental health is maintained post-lockdown too.
They were implemented into your routine during a traumatic time to help your mind and body and so they should remain there for us for the foreseeable future. They are now part of your new normal.
Creating time to fulfil these hobbies – whether it’s baking a cake, tending to the garden, or going for a run – is incremental to your health and well-being. Yes, returning to work and normality is going to be at the forefront of your mind but think of these new hobbies as a little tool you picked up on vacation – they helped you through the worst of times, so they’re obviously important and work for you.