After months and months of uncertainty and loneliness, a potential end of lockdown is insight. So why do so many of us feel so anxious?
If you’re struggling with post-lockdown anxiety, you’re one of many. In a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, over 50% of people said they were anxious about resuming in-person interaction.
In general, many people experience two specific types of fears. The first worry is about catching or transmitting the virus. And that’s only fair; after so long of being so far away, crowded spaces feel unsafe in a way that they haven’t before. The other worry is about social interaction. Many worry about their social skills being rusty after spending so long inside. It’s another fair worry. After all, socializing is a skill, but it’s one you can get back. And, let’s be honest, we’ll all be a little rusty.
When it comes to re-adjusting, those in racial or ethnic groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic, people who experienced pandemic-related trauma, and those who struggle with their mental health might particularly struggle. No matter what group you fall in, or what worries you have, you deserve to feel safe and secure in the re-entry process. But how?
Face your fears, but take it slow
Experts warn that excessive avoidance will reinforce that the outside world is still a threat, making it harder to overcome your post-lockdown anxiety long-term. At the same time, jumping right into something that’s too terrifying will also hurt your progress. Remember that re-adjusting is going to be a different process for everyone. It’s not a race.
Set small goals for yourself that will gently nudge you out of your comfort zone. This doesn’t mean you have to go to a crowded event immediately, but when it’s safe, maybe try sitting outside at a restaurant, going into a store, or spending time with a few close friends you haven’t seen in a while. The pandemic was a large-scale collective trauma. It’s important to be kind to yourself first.
Set boundaries and communicate
While waiting for a vaccine or for the pandemic to ease in your location, think about the boundaries you want to set when you start seeing people again. This can be emotional boundaries and physical. If you aren’t comfortable with hugging yet, there’s no harm in communicating that to your friends before seeing them. After an event like covid, you’ll likely have new limits and boundaries. It’s okay to both explore and communicate with them.
If you’re worried about becoming too overwhelmed in social situations, make sure you put yourself in situations where you can leave early. Communicate with people about where you’re at in this process. While some people might seem like they’re ready for re-entry, you don’t have to be. Overcoming anxiety takes time.
Develop a re-entry plan
Take some time to think about what you missed the most this year and prioritize that. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen your grandparents, or if you just really miss live music, try to find a way to take back what you missed the most. The joy of seeing someone you love who you missed or doing something you love that you worried you’d never be able to do again can help ease underlying worries.
No matter what first steps you take, try and put yourself in situations that are rewarding and, if possible, fun. If you’re only going out to grocery shop, or you put yourself in situations that’ll be overwhelming and miserable, you wont associate going out with anything positive.
Talking to someone is a fantastic way to ease anxiety and get tools to cope. As stated earlier, COVID-19 was a collective, worldwide trauma. Many of us would seriously benefit from stress-reducing therapy. Some worry that their problems are too “small” for a therapist. In reality, everyone could benefit from therapy.
There are also plenty of support groups popping up online and in the real world. Try and find one that’s right for you. You’d be surprised just how many people are going through the same thing. Support groups are a fantastic asset for many. While it’s one thing to hear that you aren’t alone, it’s another thing to see it and get that community support. Through support groups, you’ll be able to gather more useful tools and tricks for dealing with anxiety and stress.
Make sure it’s the right time
A fantastic way to make sure you are keeping yourself and others safe is to get vaccinated and check your local COVID-19 guidelines. It’s crucial for the safety of yourself and others that you keep the words and advice of professionals. Check with your local and national government about current risks.
Listening to experts can help ease your anxiety and give you more assurance that your re-entry is well-timed and safe. Confusion and worry that you aren’t doing the right thing or keeping yourself safe can add to re-entry anxiety. When you follow guidelines, you can rest assured that you are doing everything you can to mitigate the risk.
Embrace the new normal
Due to the trauma, societal changes, and loss experienced from covid-19, life won’t be the same as it was before the virus hit. It’s okay to feel like a fish out of water amongst these new changes. Ultimately, facing post-lockdown anxiety will look different for everyone, but taking one small step at a time can make the process run more smoothly.
In lockdown, it was easy to fantasize about immediately jumping in the deep end, about going to parties and going on dates and giving hugs and kisses to everyone possible. Now that more vaccines are getting distributed and case numbers are going down, the unfortunate reality is that it’s going to be harder than that.
Luckily, summer approaches for many of us. Outdoor seating and events will be plentiful. Vaccines are becoming more readily available. This is a good thing! This is what we’ve wanted for so long. In a year of closed doors, empty venues, and zoom calls, many of us have missed each other deeply. So, when you’re ready, close your laptop, open your door, and begin your first clumsy steps into our new and exciting world.