The measures imposed by UK government and authorities around the world to tackle the coronavirus outbreak have meant people have experienced isolation, uncertainty and disruption more than ever before. Homes have become workplaces, schools and gyms, and people are facing considerable uncertainty around their health, finances and job security.
Against this backdrop, it is unsurprising that stress and anxiety have been exacerbated, with many of us – pre-existing mental health conditions or not – experiencing high levels of worry.
However, as countries start to lift lockdown restrictions and governments set out tentative measures to re-open society, thoughts turn to how we will cope with reintegration and resocialisation. Over the past few months we’ve steadily adapted to our ‘new normal’. We’ve been able to stay in our homes, a space we can control and feel safe in, and we’ve been able to take measures to prevent our exposure to others, like limiting time outdoors and maintaining social distancing. This has been a worrying and stressful time, however through actions encouraged by our government and health experts we’ve been able to mitigate potential anxieties throughout the lockdown period.
Whilst the prospect of easing restrictions will be positive for many – for example, we might final be able to give loved ones a hug, access a professional haircut and spend downtime in eating and drinking establishments – learning to live alongside coronavirus will evoke some levels of discomfort. After adapting to stay-at-home measures, we may feel hesitant or lack the confidence to go back out into the world – even if, at the same, time we’re looking forward to it.
The concept of holding two opposing viewpoints simultaneously is called ‘cognitive dissonance’, and commonly causes mental discomfort to arise. In the employment context, integration back into office spaces raises similar anxieties. There will be a natural apprehension around returning to spaces which were once completely ordinary, but over the past few months have been deemed dangerous. As lockdown measures ease, mental health experts are anticipating a rise in the experience of anxiety, whether we have a history of mental health issues or not.
Morson health, wellbeing and engagement partner, Heather Deering gives her top tips to follow if you are experiencing fear or anxiety about post-lockdown life:
1. Listen to yourself
Take steps to understand how and why your anxiety arises, how you can recognise it within yourself and others, and develop strategies that may help you overcome it. This might take the form of engaging with mental health champions in your workplace, seeking out information or advice from mental health charities and organisations, or speaking with your doctor or other trusted healthcare professional.
Being open and honest about your feelings with those around you will encourage others to do the same. Though we all respond differently to stress, this is a unique and rare situation where the entire population is having the same experience at the same time. People sharing their feelings serves as a good reminder that we’re all in the same boat, and we can’t underestimate the comfort that this can bring to an uncomfortable situation.
3. Mental and physical health
Protect your health and wellbeing by eating well, exercising regularly, getting plenty of good quality sleep, and making time for self-care. When anxiety overtakes us, it can be difficult to find the mental capacity to do all of these things, every day. But take it all a step at a time, do little bits of each thing and watch how your mental load improves when you strike the balance. Build up from there.
4. Be kind to yourself
Recognise that if you are feeling discomfort or anxiety, it is normal; we’ve gone through a lot of change in a very short space of time and adjustment to it is unlikely to be immediate. Be kind to yourself and those around you and don’t expect to necessarily slide straight back into life as it was pre-lockdown. It took time to adjust to lockdown and it’s going to take time to adjust back. If you don’t feel ready, don’t bow to any internal or external pressure to dive straight into social activity – take it slow and steady.
For most people anxiety will be temporary and will fade over the coming weeks and months. For others, it may represent a more long-lasting concern that will require support to overcome.
As individuals, if you find yourself struggling with anxiety or feeling overwhelmed don’t keep it to yourself – speak to a trusted friend or loved one, your doctor, or to a mental health support organisation like Mind or Samaritans. Better yet, use your internal mental health support services – they’re there for you, too.
As we all navigate COVID-19 and the changes it is bringing to each of our lives, we all have a responsibility to reach out and start the conversation around mental health. Talk, connect with one another and reinforce the support systems around you.