A new normal
After a long and difficult year, there is hope on the horizon of normality returning. For many people this is cause for celebration as we tick off the days until we can emerge blinking into the sun to re-unite with friends and family, enjoy social events and shopping. However, not everyone is welcoming the easing of restrictions and you may be feeling worried or anxious about things getting back to normal.
For over a year we have been conditioned to be fearful of going outside and been warned that mixing with other people can be dangerous. We have been bombarded by death figures, reports of overcrowded hospitals, seen nurses, doctors and teachers bought to their knees in the fight against coronavirus. Everywhere we go we have been reminded of this threat – warning signs, masks, track and trace checkpoints. We have lived with the uncertainty of ever-changing plans, sudden alterations to levels of restrictions and the constant threat to our health whilst our access to people or activities that could provide much needed comfort and welcome distraction has been severely restricted.
Its been a relentless year and for some, it might take a while to begin to feel safe and confident in returning to normality. So whilst it is true that for many the end of lockdown is cause for celebration, it is important to remember that going forward everyone will have their own emotions and circumstances to navigate and we need to be kind and patient with each other. Many of us may have enjoyed a slower pace of life and worry about returning to a faster pace of life again and fitting everything together again without the flexibility that lockdown has afforded, some of us have concerns over COVID cases rising again and people keeping to social distancing rules. There may be economic concerns over jobs and employment and concerns over the long-term implications of the past year on those closest to us.
Mental health charities caution heightened levels of anxiety
For some people the thought of things going back to normal can trigger heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Lockdown has given people suffering with mental health conditions such as anxiety and PTSD permission to stay at home in an environment that they can control . Now they are being asked to face the world again. UK mental health charities and experts are cautioning that for those with mental health concerns this can be particularly difficult.
Tips to combat anxiety
If you are worried about lockdown easing and feel anxious about returning to normality, here are some suggestions for you to consider:
- Pace yourself, prioritise what you need to do (such as work) and decide what else you feel comfortable about doing. Just because everyone is meeting up or going shopping, doesn’t mean you have to do it too. It’s important though that you also try to challenge yourself. Taking one small step at a time to push yourself out of your comfort zone will help you to build confidence in yourself and world.
Get some grounding techniques in your toolbox
- Learn some grounding strategies so when you feel particularly anxious you can use them to settled yourself down. Anxiety is maintained by avoidance, so by staying with the feelings without retreating and grounding yourself until the anxiety settles, re-wires your brain to feel safe and calms your nervous system. Try the 4, 7, 11 breathing technique (slowly in for 4, hold for 7, slowly out for 11) to trigger the relaxation part of our brain and the butterfly hug or finger breathing technique (specially good for kids) can both help to settle you down again.
Pay attention to what you are thinking
- Notice negative thought patterns such as catastrophising (thinking the worst), predicting the future (voice of doom) and all or nothing thinking. Remember that just because you think something, doesn’t make it true. Put your thoughts on trial. Is there evidence for and against these thoughts? Is there any value in thinking this way? What could be an alternative, more balanced thought that you could focus on instead? Being intentional to address negative thinking can drastically improve how we feel and improve anxiety.
Physical activity – the natural mood boost
- Keeping physically active can help to reduce stress and anxiety by increasing your body’s natural happy hormones. If you are still shielding there are exercises you can do in your home or garden. If you are able to get out for a short walk each day, even better as the benefits of exercise are increased by the mood boosting effect of fresh air and a change of scenery. Eating well and getting enough sleep are also pillars of good mental, physical and emotional health.
Mindfulness for more less anxiety and more enjoyment of the present moment
- Practising mindfulness can be a way of being more grounded in the present moment. Switching your brain off switch off from worrying anxious thoughts helps you enjoy the present moment more. Studies consistently show that people who practice mindfulness have lower levels of stress, improved sleep and improved mental health.
Why not try an mindfulness app such as Headspace or Calm or try one of the many YouTube videos available. If mindfulness isn’t for you then doing something you enjoy that absorbs all of your attention such as baking, painting or playing an instrument can have similar benefits.
Be kind – to yourself!
- Above all be kind to yourself. We have all been through an immensely difficult period and its okay if it takes you a while to re-adjust. Focus on the things that you have missed that you will be able to do again and look forward to these. Let other people know if you are finding the adjustment hard and ask for extra support from employers and friends if you need to.
For more help
If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed about the thought of coming out of lockdown, contact me here to discuss how counselling can help.