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 Facebook, LinkedIn or email on firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.