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Coping with anxiety in a post-lockdown world

Girl in mask in doorway

Image: FRANCISCOJESUS/stock.adobe.com

Dr Fiona Pienaar, Senior Clinical Advisor at Mental Health Innovations/Shout, offers her expert advice on how to cope with the challenges of emerging from lockdown.

After months of being isolated at home, we can finally return to some kind of normality.

But, for many people, the end of lockdown has signalled the start of a new set of worries.

So, what is it about post-lockdown life that’s making us anxious?

What lockdown did to us

Lockdown was an unprecedented situation and there was no roadmap to guide us. But, as we began to understand the nature of this pandemic, we stayed home, avoided those who were not part of our lockdown group, and developed new routines, new roles, and new ways of connecting and working.

It’s likely that people found this experience incredibly challenging. Holding down a combination of diverse roles has understandably affected the mental health and wellbeing of many adults. Challenges around job losses and financial strain have been rife.

Children and young people, meanwhile, lost their freedom and missed out on the many rites of passage of being a child and an adolescent.

All of these experiences, or lack of, involve loss and change and, potentially, grief and the associated strong emotions. Indeed, there is growing awareness that the lockdown experience could lead to a surge in people of all ages needing mental health support now and into the future.

Given the national and global challenges, it is completely understandable if we have felt fearful, anxious, angry, sad, and other emotions. The speed of change in terms of the advice we receive is rapid and sometimes confusing. We are also constantly reminded about the potential threat to our health. It can feel like an unpredictable rollercoaster where you can’t see what’s ahead.

Why are we experiencing post-lockdown anxiety?

Now, after months of looking forward to an end to lockdown, we can finally start to return to a new normality.

So why do so many people, adults and children alike, feel anxious about actually taking those steps outside their homes?

I wonder if this is partly associated with control, or lack of it.

As we settled into the predictable routines of lockdown and daily news of the pandemic ebbed and flowed, home might have started to feel like a safe environment to shelter in.

In a world where it felt as if we had lost personal control of our lives beyond our front door, our homes were a place where we could follow routines and feel like we had some control. Perhaps, while we didn’t like the fact that our freedom was curtailed, we understood that staying at home protected us and our families and we held control of that.

Going into an environment that looks and feels different, might feel as if we lose control of the ability to ensure our own and our children’s safety.

There may be other factors contributing to our anxiety, including:

  • Lack of clarity as to when the pandemic will be under control, meaning we may feel hesitant to ‘start over’
  • The threat of a second wave of infections potentially resulting in a second round of lockdowns
  • Reconnecting with others after such a long period of isolation and separation

What can we do to support ourselves and our families as we step into this next phase?

For a start … whether you are starting to go out to work and socialise, whether you are still shielding at home and whether you have pre-existing mental health challenges or not, remind yourself and your family that it is completely understandable to be experiencing anxiety in what is another period of adjustment.

Everyone has experienced and coped with lockdown and social isolation in their own way, individually and as a family or a group. Taking the time to think about how you and your family successfully negotiated your way through this period of lockdown can help you get in touch with your resilience, grit and determination and perhaps reveal new insight into the ability you all have to cope under challenging conditions.

Even if there were many occasions where it felt distinctly dark and hopeless, you have nevertheless reached this point! Knowing that you have this success under your belt, so to speak, can give you a sense of what you are all capable of as you step into this next phase.

Ask yourself and your family:

  • What did you notice about yourself and how you coped during the lockdown period?
  • What are you proud of?
  • What have you noticed about each other?
  • What are your strengths as a family?
  • How are you going to move together through this next stage?

As lockdown eases, some Top Tips to take away:

  1. Keep a check on the information you and your family are absorbing about the global pandemic. Don’t let too much exposure to news and updates impact on your wellbeing.
  2. Sometimes we forget to be aware of our breathing. Take a few deep breaths, clear your mind, focus on your breathing. Practise with your children. It can help to calm things down very quickly.
  3. Remind yourself and your family of your strengths and what you have already coped with to get to this point. We are usually stronger than we give ourselves credit for.
  4. Make time to talk – during a mealtime, in the car, sitting on a child’s bed at night. Check how everybody is feeling, what they’re thinking; watch out for each other, particularly children and young people and those more vulnerable. Take time out to relax and have fun.
  5. Reach out for support from family, friends and colleagues. Seek professional help if you feel you, or a family member, need it.

…and remember…let’s be kind to ourselves and to others.

Further help

  • Shout is the UK’s first 24/7 text service, free on all major mobile networks, for anyone in crisis anytime, anywhere. It’s a place to go if you’re struggling to cope and you need immediate help. Text Shout to 85258
  • The charity Mind offers free support for anyone suffering from mental health-related issues. If you need advice or signposting to an appropriate support service you can get in touch with Mind by phone (0300 123 3393) or email (info@mind.org.uk).
  • YoungMinds is the UK’s leading mental health charity for children and young people. Through its website, young people and their parents can access a wealth of resources to help them respond to mental health challenges and get help. They also have a parent hotline you can call on 0808 802 5544.
  • Parent Info has a list of online mental health resources here

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