National Coming Out Day

Rainbow flags, gay marriage and Queer culture are far more openly discussed, celebrated and shared than they used to be – but we still have a long way to go before the world sees the LGBTQIA+ community as wholly equal to cis, straight identities.

In just two generations we have gone from homosexuality being illegal to it being a celebrated part of mainstream culture – gay marriage legalised, human rights extended far further, and Pride celebrations lighting cities and towns around the world up with rainbows, sparkles and love.

However, there are still a lot of people who live in fear. Who worry that their families and loved ones will reject them, turn their back, if they ‘choose to be’ gay. We know that sexuality is not a choice; that it is simply how people are, from birth – the nature vs nurture debate long since debunked in this circumstance – but there are still communities who believe that they can ‘convert’ gay people into straight lives.

All this does is destroy people; it causes life long trauma and heartache, a dissociation from their true self and a feeling of emptiness and separation from a life with love and contentment – which is a very basic human need.

Love – the partnership and support of a partner – is something many people take for granted, and in denying ones own sexuality it puts a barrier between the self and anyone else, romantically or otherwise. The fear of being found out, of being ‘seen’, taints everything – and creates friction and grief in every aspect of the individual’s life.

Coming out is a daunting and life altering event; one which could be a celebration, an acceptance and welcoming of love and a lifetime of happiness – or which could be a rejection, a painful experience which sees someone shamed and disowned simply for wanting love.

If you are questioning your sexuality and looking for support, or if you had a difficult experience with family or loved ones when you came out, I can help. You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

World Mental Health Day

I wrote last year about World Mental Health Day, and the pressures that the mental health care system was facing, particularly in response to the pandemic, which impacted people in a plethora of different ways.

https://www.amandaburbidge-counselling.co.uk/2019/10/31/world-mental-health-awareness/

I said 12 months ago that people were being left waiting for help that was urgently needed – and that I didn’t know what the solution was, but that Government needed to acknowledge the failings and gaps, and invest more heavily into providing that support long term for those most in need.

What’s changed since then?

Well – not an awful lot, to be honest. The same pressures are still sitting on the shoulders of our population, the same crisis of too many people in crisis with too little resource to support them, the same lack of funding for those most desperately in need.

But in that 12 months people have been continuing to speak more openly and honestly about their own mental health, creating safe spaces in their social circles and workplaces to support one another, to bring comfort and guidance, and to help people find channels to help themselves whilst they wait to access professional support.

This honesty is absolutely vital when it comes to mental health awareness; loneliness and shame are the biggest dangers, and those who find their mental health suffering often feel that they are failing in some way, or that they need to try and disguise or hide that struggle.

The problem with that is it leaves you alone in that dark place, with nothing but the struggle for company – and that can make it seem like it’s everything, everywhere, everywhen – and that’s when it gets too big to cope with – and that’s when the danger of taking drastic steps increases.

Instead, speaking honestly, openly and discussing the ways we are finding things difficult, the things we find overwhelming, releases a huge amount of the pressure – meaning that we feel lighter and freer, that we have those challenges in common and are all experiencing similar situations, so we aren’t alone with them. Sharing problems is a powerful way to ease them.

Not everyone can access care and support at the moment – so the pressure is on everyone to find ways to lighten the load and support one another as a community, and to speak more honestly with our friends and family, with our employers and colleagues, and with the services which we can access for help.

If you are looking for support and want a safe place to speak to someone experienced and qualified, and feel ready to work through the challenges you’re currently struggling with to make all of your tomorrows easier. You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

National Do Something Nice Day

Kindness is an underrated trait – one which is so very important, and still regularly dismissed as making a person ‘weak’ or ‘a pushover’ because there are those who will take advantage of that kindness.

Kindness – the act of giving something of oneself for the benefit of another, however that manifests – is a beautiful thing to live by, and small acts of it can have an enormous impact on the day, if not life, of the person receiving it.

It’s also something that you need to put into practice towards yourself; kindness – and forgiveness – which encourages you to keep going when things are hard, praising yourself for the things you do well, forgiving yourself for mistakes and using them as a chance to learn, rather than punishing yourself.

The world has become something of a challenge for many people – anxiety and mental ill health are increasing, thanks to the pressures of a global pandemic, extremism, right wing politics and the strain on the economy – and it’s no surprise that people are tense and struggling to maintain a balance in their lives, with all of that to contend with.

Times like these show that kindness is more important than ever. False information runs rampant on social media and people are quick to judge and to throw blame or even anger at those who don’t share their views. Kindness is pushed aside as we see more people struggling – and that’s the time to take a step back, to take some deep breaths, and to think how you can react with kindness to the situation.

Sometimes that kindness needs to be for yourself – which means stepping away from the situation or people altogether and creating some boundaries which protect you from future harm.

Doing something nice – for yourself or for someone else – isn’t something which should require an awareness day, but when we are still in survival mode (because of a very frightening pandemic, for example…) we can lose track of the small ways we impact on others – so take a little time to do something nice. Anything. Big or small. It could be taking biscuits into the office, helping someone carry their shopping, buying a friend a coffee. It could be as simple as just smiling more and asking people how they are – giving them a few minutes of your time and attention when you’re usually too busy.

And above all else, do something nice for yourself – cook your favourite dinner, have a soak in a bubble bath, watch your favourite show, buy that jumper you’ve been eyeing up.

Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to cost much, but it should make someone smile, and give a little pop of happiness which could turn around an entire day.

Being nice rubs off on people.

Action for Happiness – Optimistic October

October already! This year seems simultaneously to be flying past and endless – but somehow we are in October, nights are getting longer, weather colder, and it’s time to start thinking about cosy fires and hearty soup!

The Action For Happiness calendar this month focusses on Optimism – and there are, as always, some wonderful suggestions;

 

Sexual Health Awareness Week

September 13th to 19th was Sexual Health Awareness Week – and there are events across the UK promoting both sexual and relationship health education throughout September, some of which you can find here https://www.brook.org.uk/shw/ – and I’d particularly like to guide readers towards the webinar for young men which focusses on consent.

This is an area I work in, which you can learn more about by clicking this link, and which can be very difficult and delicate – supporting those who have been accused of, or are under investigation for, sexual assault or abuse.

I’ve been challenged on occasion for working with this particular client group.  I agree that there is no excusing the acts of sexual offending, on or off line. However, if a person has performed those acts there is, more often than not, significant trauma and/or or abuse in their own history, which impacted upon their personality, their development and their behaviours, and which led to the creation of cognitive distortions and, often times, dissociation, all of which needs to be processed and understood in order to prevent further offending in future.

There are also a number of men I work with – particularly young men – who have been accused of sexual assault when they are innocent. The difficulties of intoxication, blurred boundaries, consent and shame mean that sometimes people can’t clearly remember what happened, or that both parties cross lines they later regret, and sometimes people panic and make an accusation which is unfounded. Many of the clients I work with in this specific area of need have been accused of brutal, devastating things – but the truth of the situation is far more complex, and they are innocent of any crime.

The accusation itself is deeply traumatic, and the process of investigation can have lasting and significant impact not only on the alleged victim, but on the alleged perpetrator – especially when they are innocent, but become tarred with the accusation, and carry that shame.

This is why proper sex and relationship education, especially around consent and the impact of drugs and alcohol on inhibitions and our grasp of reality, memory and morality under their influence, is absolutely vital.

It’s at this time of year when hundreds of thousands of young adults, barely out of childhood, move out into the world as students. Away from home for the first time, free from the constraints of home life and keen to explore every new experience, expand their boundaries and embrace everything student culture brings, combined with meeting new people, in a new place, and bombarded with Fresher’s week party culture, many of these young adults come apart at the seams.

A lot of these young adults find themselves out of control, with free drinks and experimenting with drugs, with blank spaces in their memories of the night before. Many find themselves making decisions they otherwise wouldn’t have made, making enormous mistakes, making fools of themselves or – worse – making victims of themselves or of others.

Some think that universities need to take more responsibility for protecting these new students, limiting the activities in Fresher’s week which focus on party culture – but others say that the students are adults now, and free to make their own choices. Legally they may be adults, but research has evidenced that the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain which controls impulsive and risk-taking behaviours) hasn’t yet developed as people reach early adulthood. This means that these young people quite literally don’t have the area of brain we need to make these decisions and form reasoned behaviours – putting them at far greater risk of endangering themselves or putting themselves and others at risk impulsively.

When you combine a tendency towards risk taking with excessive alcohol or drug consumption, young people are at the most danger of finding themselves in situations in which they can be accused of – or be guilty of – inappropriate or criminal sexual behaviours.

Education is the only way to challenge this – and to help your own young people to avoid those dangers when they are coming into adulthood and stepping out into the world to test their boundaries and explore their independence. Consent and safe sexual intimacy are vitally important messages for young people to understand, and which people still find difficult to discuss as openly as we need to.

When we have campaigns like sexual health awareness week it opens conversations in these vital topics – the signs of sexually transmitted infections (find out more about the most common STIs here https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sexually-transmitted-infections-stis/) enthusiastic consent (find out more about consent here https://www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent) and protecting yourself against spiked drinks (find out more here https://theconversation.com/what-is-drink-spiking-how-can-you-know-if-its-happened-to-you-and-how-can-it-be-prevented-160538#:~:text=%E2%80%9CDrink%20spiking%E2%80%9D%20is%20when%20someone,alcohol%20to%20an%20alcoholic%20drink) are some of the most important conversations you should be able to have with and as young adults.

One of the best educational videos I’ve seen around consent is this:

The impact of a sexual assault can be life long, and deeply traumatic, and it can impact every aspect of a person’s life and future relationships. But being accused of sexual assault is also very damaging – and those who have been accused need support as well as the alleged victims – especially when the accusation is unfounded or the truth of the situation is that both parties have been harmed by a mutual mistake.

If you find yourself in that situation I am registered with both ATSAC www.atasc.org.uk (The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity) and StopSo www.stopso.org.uk ) (Specialist Treatment Organisation for Perpetrators and Survivors of Sexual Offending) I provide specialised counselling services for those who have committed – or who might commit – sexual offences, as well as those who have been falsely accused.

I can help, no matter what the truth of the situation, to process the trauma of both your past and this difficult present.

You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

World suicide prevention day

September 10th is world suicide prevention day – and knowing that more people than ever before are struggling with their mental health, as services are being reduced and overwhelmed, it’s more important this year that we have conversations and check in with the people around us who might need more support than usual.

Suicide is a dreadfully difficult topic to raise, and it can feel impossible to let people know that you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, or to support loved ones who are battling them. The impact of losing someone to suicide is enormous, and the difficulty for those who find themselves in that darkest of mindsets is that they genuinely believe that others would be better off if they carry their plans through – which is far from the truth.

It can be very frightening if you have intrusive thoughts which plant that idea, and which build on depression and anxiety, and the stigma of seeking help means that many people feel trapped in the darkness.

It can also be overwhelming trying to support someone who is lost in the dark but who you know just needs the right access to help in order to move past it.

Mind have some great initial suggestions to help those who are struggling: you can find information on their website about how to seek help if you are struggling, and how to support others in their struggle https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helping-someone-else/supporting-someone-who-feels-suicidal/about-suicidal-feelings/

If you are struggling yourself and would like support and counselling to help you process your difficulties and to move past those thoughts I can help. You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

Trauma bonding – how to overcome, recover and protect from trauma bonding

I wrote about trauma bonding, and the complexity of those relationships, in an earlier post where I explained how trauma bonds are formed:

The deliberate inconsistency in affection makes the victim feel that they are to blame, and that their own behaviour and personality has to change in order to ‘earn’ that affection. There are brief, intense moments of joy scattered among more significant periods of hurt or abuse, but those joy moments are addictive; the intensity of love bombing is overwhelming. Victims of trauma bonding then often fall into familiar patterns with other relationships, finding themselves in similar situations even if they’ve escaped their initial abuser or trauma.

This is why so many people return to abusive relationships; those who haven’t experienced it say “why did you go back?” – but that gives the impression that an abuser is only abusive – when the reality is far more complex, and comes with the most intense highs and overwhelming shows of love and affection, which is what the victim is seeking, and may even think makes the painful abuse they experience worth it, because the high is so intense.

Escaping trauma bonding is as complex and multi-faceted as the traumatic relationship – but it is possible with the right steps and support. Here are some techniques I recommend when I’m working with clients who are moving away from abusive relationships and trauma bonding.

 

1: Be here, right now, truthfully. A significant part of what keeps you in that relationship or situation is the “if I just…” – the fantasy of how it could be more often, if you just…changed? Behaved differently? Got it right? All of those fantasy scenarios are so dependent on impossible goals and unrealistic reactions. Each time you slip into the daydreams of what could be, pause and take a critical assessment of what is, right now. The tiptoeing, the ball of anxiety, the “which version of them is coming home” that raises your heartrate when you hear their key in the door. That reality is far more consistent than the what if you imagine to survive it, so let yourself acknowledge the truth of where you are.

Don’t distract yourself with hoping or trying to somehow manage someone into a ‘good day’ – notice how you really feel, and how much you have to play a game or bite your tongue in order to get scraps of contentment amidst the anxiety of your day.

2: One day at a time (or even one minute at a time!) You don’t have to change everything at once – you don’t have to lose your entire life to escape a bad relationship. All or nothing is far too huge, and daunting, and it will imprison you because it’s too much to take on.

Instead, make one decision at a time, one action at a time, and one interaction at a time.

Finding yourself feeling stuck in an abusive relationship (be that with a partner, parent, friend or boss) took time; it wasn’t an overnight change. Nor is escaping it. You can set your own boundaries and implement small changes a little at a time, until you feel strong enough and ready to totally free yourself from this entanglement.

Key to this is remembering that putting your needs first is self preservation – not selfish. Each time you find yourself being self-critical, remember that isn’t your voice, and be compassionate and kind to yourself and your own needs.

3: Give yourself permission to feel. In this relationship you have learned to ignore your own feelings and needs, and to put those of the other person above yours. This makes it very difficult to find the edges of your emotions, and to accept that your feelings are important and valid. Re-learning those things is important – so rather than trying to squash them down for the sake of someone else, let yourself feel them and acknowledge them.

A great tool for this is keeping a journal, where you can write what you are feeling – including the negative and positive emotions tied to the abuser. This isn’t black and white – so let yourself acknowledge if you miss someone, but balance it with truthful awareness of how it felt to be near them.

It can be painful, healing from trauma and recovering from harmful relationships, but it’s only by acknowledging and moving through those complex emotions that you can understand yourself, and build resilience to protect against repeating this pattern in future relationships. Grief is one of the things you’ll feel – but remember that much of the grief is for how that relationship should have been, rather than for the reality of what you had.

4: Identify your needs. The biggest part of moving on is understanding what you were hoping to get from the relationship, and how they used that against you to keep you there.

By offering short, intense moments of joy or affection you were being given something powerful and addictive, which was then taken away or withheld, making you feel that you needed to ‘earn’ it. This is the ‘hook’ – the power that they held – and by identifying this hook you will be able to build a blueprint of what you need in other relationships, and how you can build that need into your own behaviour rather than being dependent on an external source to meet it.

5: Blueprint for the new life you deserve. Now that you’ve identified the most significant need you had (safety, affection, love, support) you can begin to set out the foundations of what you deserve in your life. The treatment you will – and will not – accept from others, and from yourself. Examples are things like “I will not stay in the company of someone who is insulting me”, “I will not sleep with anyone who is hurtful”, “I will manage my own income and spending”, “I will nourish my body with healthy food and avoid any alcohol or drugs that change my behaviour”.

Set small goals, things which matter to you. This could be getting a new job, moving to a new home, seeing friends or family that you’ve been separated from by your toxic partner, starting a new hobby or returning to one you quit because the relationship took all your energy. Small, life affirming choices which reinforce that you are capable and can enjoy things alone, and with chosen other people, on your own terms.

Invest time in a healthier relationship with yourself – allowing choices for things you want; start small with things like what you would like to eat, what you want to watch on TV, the colour of your bedding, how you dress today. All of these things have been whittled away by the choices and desires of your toxic relationship – so re-learning what you actually enjoy is an adventure. Each moment of enjoyment will reinforce that you are capable and that you make choices that bring you your own happiness – not that given to you as some kind of toxic reward, but simply by choosing for yourself.

Following that same pattern you can build healthy relationships with others by building on small, healthy interactions. Notice the people you have in your life – those you were forced to push away, those who overstepped your boundaries who you want to distance from. Pay attention to who is listening, and who is supportive; those are the people you deserve to keep in your life. It isn’t cruel or selfish to distance yourself from those who are harmful or overbearing.

Investing in those healthy interactions, and building on the relationships you have with people who aren’t toxic, is the only sure way to fully free yourself from unhealthy, toxic relationships, and from the possibility of repeating toxic patterns in future. It is tempting to slip into a familiar dynamic, where you’ve learned how to behave and squash your own needs down to suit others; that’s a difficult thing to un-learn – so keep reminding yourself that it took time to become the person they made you – and it can and will take time to build the new, happier, safer you. And you’re worth that time.

If you want to escape or move past trauma bonding, if this is something that feels very familiar and you know that you want and need a healthier, happier future free of those painful, heavy relationships, I can help. You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

Action for Happiness – Self Care September

Isn’t it funny that we think of August as bright sun, peak of summer, long days and time outdoors – but September is immediately cosy, hot chocolate and soup, and all things fireside…

With that in mind, it’s the perfect month for self-care – and that’s the prompt from this month’s Action for Happiness calendar – with something each day that puts you at the forefront of your needs.

Small acts of self-care can add up to huge changes in wellbeing, so do save this month’s calendar, print it, keep it close at hand, and be kind to yourself every day.

Men and the growing crisis of mental health

Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women.

There are more billionaire men than women – but there are also more homeless men living rough than women.

There are more men in prison than women.

Men are more likely to receive harsh punishments for crimes than women.

The gaps between good and bad lives, good and bad experiences, good and bad support, are vast; we know that there’s a disparity between men and women – but few people speak about the enormous differences in life experience between men in different cultural and economic worlds.

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I wrote recently about toxic masculinity, and how it’s responsible for so many male abuse victims suffering in silence and being killed by their abusers.

It also means that men are more likely to die from treatable medical issues – because seeking medical help is seen as ‘weak’ and men are taunted for being ‘more dramatic’ with illnesses like ‘man flu’ (in reality, men are significantly more likely to die of flu than women) and will ignore symptoms of more serious conditions because it’s seen as a failing of masculinity to be worried, to visit a doctor, to express concern and seek help.

“Man up.”

“Boys don’t cry.”

Men’s health – and especially men’s mental health – is being failed by a system that isn’t offering intervention and support before the issue becomes life threatening. Statistics show that men are far more likely to die of things like cancer, infections, viruses, heart disease and diabetes – and that their lifestyles and weight can impact these far more commonly than women might experience. Men’s mortality is far higher than that of women, at every age – but the most worrying among these statistics by far is the number of men who are dying by suicide.

Often this is associated to younger men – but middle-aged and retired men are also far more likely to die of suicide than any natural causes or illnesses, and far more likely than women to die by suicide at every age.

Men are suffering with crippling, life threatening mental health issues because the medical system isn’t geared towards helping them, their workplaces make no allowances for their mental health and emotional needs, the pressures of providing for a family and maintaining a façade of strength among their peers are overwhelming, and admitting that they are struggling against these pressures is seen as a weakness, so they are ridiculed or dismissed.

This is leaving men across the UK, from every kind of background, every social environment, every income bracket, every level of our society with no support, with no access to the right kind of help, no avenue for seeking emotional and mental health support, medication, counselling, justice for any harm or abuse that they face.

The Men’s Health Forum are petitioning Government to invest more in a Men’s Health Strategy – something designed to improve and promote services tailored to the specific needs of men. Covid has hugely impacted the NHS, the available support, stretching an already thinly spread system in which so many men were already slipping through the gaps between their needs and the available services.

When men are ridiculed, dismissed as weak or brushed off for having any kind of health need – whether that’s physical or mental – it shows a dangerous and deadly culture of fronting any issue with ignorance, secrecy and fear. The endemic issue of toxic masculinity, of pushing men to maintain the illusion of strength and stability, of making them feel afraid to ask for help and acknowledge when they are struggling, is costing far too many lives.

It’s time that those voices are heard, and that men are supported to seek the help that they need to survive any mental or physical health crisis; that they are given fair and universal access to mental health support, to lifestyle and physical health benefits that they are currently lacking, and that the mentality of ‘man up’ is challenged so often, and so loudly, that it becomes the shameful view, and men are finally able to speak openly about the challenges that they face and access appropriate support in order to break that cycle of toxicity.

Martin Tod, CEO of the Men’s Health Forum, has shared this video which details the worrying statistics that men are facing, and which is the front of their campaign,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD7pU7pZNZk

and you can sign the petition supporting the cause here

https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/petition-mens-health-strategy?utm_source=MHF+newsletters&utm_campaign=cc28e67fbf-APPG_Video_7_17_2021_20_8&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b8d405abed-cc28e67fbf-444204473&mc_cid=cc28e67fbf&mc_eid=2e66ec0ef9

It’s time that Government realised that their health support needs to meet the very different and specific needs of both men and women – and, in fact, everyone who falls between those two categories in the spectrum of gender and sex. Binary and blanket health care is outdated, ineffective and failing our population, and it’s time for things to change and to evolve with the existing needs of people who rely on that system for support.

Mental Health word cloud on a white background.

I work with many men, including those who have fallen into the trap of repeating toxic cycles, who were victims of abuse in their formative years, who were punished for being vulnerable, and who are now living with the impact of significant mental health needs. These cycles can be broken, and even those who are living with very complex pain and trauma can find a pathway to leave that hurt behind, and to avoid weaponizing it to protect themselves from potential future harm.

If you feel that you would benefit from somewhere safe to speak, to process your past hurts, to deal with the stress and pressure of your current life, to prepare for any upcoming challenges that you are worrying about, and you think you need support with any mental health concerns, contact me – you don’t need to battle your demons alone. You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. to speak about what support you think you’d benefit from.

Is post-covid Freedom leaving people feeling imprisoned by fear?

July 19th in England was dubbed “Freedom Day” by the media, and the population counted down with excitement to a day when all the restrictions that were put in place because of the Covid pandemic were lifted.

It’s been over a week, schools have broken up for summer, and people are jumping (or tentatively creeping?) into travel, visiting friends and family, gathering in groups and returning to something like the normal we had before.

Opinions are very divided – but Government have decided to continue with their planned ‘Freedoms’, though scientists advised against it, and with the NHS already thinly stretched, many people are very concerned about their safety moving forward, and about another wave impacting our lives once again.

With no restrictions we are jumping for the first time in well over a year to freedom of travel, people visiting friends and family, bars and clubs re-opening, shopping without masks, gathering in large numbers without the need to social distance. All of those steps we took to protect ourselves and those in our communities are gone, and the gradual adjustment we all made to safety and isolation has been swept away.

For some this ‘all in one’ approach is daunting; moving from a mind-set where we avoid others, cancel social plans, don’t attend gatherings, wear masks and keep our distance, and carefully plan grocery trips to avoid big groups and get things delivered where we can to…total freedom? It’s just too much at once. Sensory overload, combined with anxiety when we face groups of un-masked strangers.

Families and friends have spent months aching to get together, to hug, to celebrate, to enjoy time in groups and to share affections and events. Now that we can, some are still too nervous to do so, still holding onto the idea that there’s danger in meeting.

Most worrying is that it’s true; the virus hasn’t disappeared, the vaccine rollout has slowed down, the new Delta variant is impacting younger people who were initially safe, and the numbers show active cases growing again.

Despite this, people are eager to return to work, to see their loved ones, to prop up the economy, which continues to be significantly impacted, and to believe that it’s safe to hug those they’ve not seen for many months. Loneliness, anxiety, lost work and the draining exhaustion of long-term stress have seen many of us ‘hit the wall’ – and though we are all eager to ‘get back to normal’ it’s hard to ignore the mixed messages and bombardment of opinions on social media.

If you are nervous, and struggling to know what the guidelines are post “freedom day” remember that there is no blanket rule; that there is no one right answer. The steps you take now depend entirely on your situation and how ready you are feeling to change the way you’ve adapted to this pandemic.

Lockdown proved that a great many jobs can, in fact, be successfully performed from home – so many employers are looking to adapt a more flexible structure for their teams. This is likely to improve mental health and the work/life balance of many working people. Mental health is a topic that has become more normalised to speak about, meaning that people are finding it easier to speak about the struggles they are facing with their own mental health. Again, this has seen a lot of employers giving more support and focus to the mental and emotional wellbeing of their teams, and supporting their needs.

Lockdown also showed that community support is absolutely vital – and that won’t disappear overnight; there will be others in your area who still need support, and who are willing to offer that support, if you need it.

The fact that we can now meet in large groups, go to events, ignore social distancing and bin the masks doesn’t mean that you have to do those things if you don’t feel ready.

You can continue to be wary of large gatherings, to wear masks when you’re indoors, to only meet friends outside if you don’t feel ready to take more steps quite yet.

It took us over a year to be in the position we are now; to adjust to the restrictions, change our routines, make plans that took more care and offered more awareness to the vulnerable in our lives.

An arbitrary date of “freedom” doesn’t mean that you have to abandon the things that made you feel safe throughout this pandemic – and you don’t need to bow to pressure to ‘get back to normal’ until you feel it’s safe for you to do so.

If you are struggling with anxiety around the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, the huge changes of ‘Freedom Day’ and perhaps pressure from people in your life to overstep boundaries you need to feel safe, you don’t need to cope alone or ignore your instincts; I can help you to process the anxiety and depression you may be experiencing, to face the wealth of conflicting emotions you’ve ridden the waves of since Covid first hit the UK, and to focus on the ways in which you are safe, and how to stay feeling so even as things continue to change.

You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. to speak about what support you think you’d benefit from.