The date is marked on our calendars, and social media channels are full of talk about ‘freedom’, about getting back to social lives, meeting friends in pubs and bars, hitting the shops and getting together with friends and family after many months of isolation.
Understandably a lot of people are very excited, and counting the days down until they can see people again and pick up the pieces of a life we had to drop so suddenly and unexpectedly when the pandemic first began to impact our lives.
But the past 12 months have seen a huge increase in reports of anxiety, depression, mental health difficulties and health problems unrelated to the virus. The pressure of worry about loved ones, about the outside world being rife with dangers, about an invisible enemy we needed to be on constant alert for, and the isolation of being forced to stay home alone will have a knock-on impact on people’s wellbeing for years to come.
It’s no surprise that a great many people are also reporting that leaving lockdown is making them more anxious than being locked down ever did. Stepping back into the world, entering crowded public spaces and being physically close to strangers in those spaces once again feels dangerous, and carries the weight of all the many warnings we’ve had to heed.
The worry that we are putting our health at risk, or that of the people we come into contact with, is one which will take longer to shake off than it took to pick up.
Living through a pandemic means that we have all been functioning in ‘survival mode’ – and our bodies have been running on a higher than usual level of adrenaline and cortisol – the ‘stress’ hormone. This is vital in emergency situations, giving us the clarity and quick responses that could save us from danger, and is a remnant of the prehistoric world we originated from. However, as a lasting and long-term situation this causes damage to our physical health, as well as keeping our brain functioning on a limited, reactive plane. That reactive state means that we aren’t able to be creative, relaxed free or engaged with the world around us in the way we ordinarily would. We are alert at all times, leaving us exhausted and irritable. We are shorter tempered, less patient, less able to enjoy the things that used to bring us peace and joy.
As you are preparing for the time you’ll leave lockdown, and make plans to see loved ones and meet in public places again, don’t feel pressured to jump right in (or out!) and to move fully from the life you’ve adjusted to, to the way things were before. Listen to your body and the instinctive reactions you have to each situation, and though I would never want you to ‘live in fear’ you can trust that you can take things slowly, adjust over time, and introduce new routines one at a time. Meeting some friends doesn’t have to mean a huge gathering, it can be coffee and a walk with one or two, somewhere secluded. Re-entering public spaces can be done carefully. Even the return to work can be managed gradually – and the proven success of remote working is likely to remain an option, at least part time, for most industries.
Frankly, nothing ever will be ‘the same it was before’ because the world has been changed permanently by the impact this pandemic has had on us.
Many of these changes are positive – the flexibility of remote working, the reduced pressure for face-to-face meetings which include travel, expense and high-stress timescales being switched for video conferencing, more autonomy in our working schedules and workloads.
I have also seen a massive public outpouring of kindness, community spirit and small gestures of love between strangers throughout the pandemic. These small moments – artwork in windows, applause on doorsteps, colourful painted stones in public parks – bring light to so many lives, and smiles to so very many faces. It has warmed my heart to see these little, thoughtful events over the past year, and I know that it has helped others too.
Kindness is a hugely important factor in any life – and it’s something I will remind you to treat yourself with as you ready yourself to leave lockdown.
Patience, kindness and love. Listen to your inner voice. Let your instinct for preservation guide and protect you, and remember the lessons we have all learned; take care of family and neighbours, protect your own needs, focus on the positives.
If you need support for any anxiety or negative thoughts that you’ve been battling in recent weeks and months, please don’t suffer or struggle alone. I can help. Contact me today to set up an initial consultation, and let’s discuss how I can help to make those burdens lighter, and open you up to the full potential of your best life.