We may have only been locked down for three months, but for me it feels like years. They say it takes 21 days to create a new habit, and I’ve firmly created the habit of staying in, home-schooling, working from home and taking daily walks in my local neighbourhood.
While I’ve missed friends and social events (oh, how I’ve missed gigs and the theatre!), I’ve got quite used to living in my little bubble. Technology has meant that I can stay connected with my nearest and dearest, attend exercise classes, take part in pub quizzes and heck, even watch my favourite band Take That perform live.
However, this bubble can’t go on and what’s next actually makes me more anxious than lockdown did. I know we need to get back to normal life for the sake of our economy and our mental health, but what will this new normal look like? How will schools work? What will happen with pubs and restaurants? Will life ever be like we remembered it.
Anxiety UK, a charity that promotes the relief and rehabilitation of those living with agoraphobia and associated anxiety disorders, says that being anxious about this next stage in life is understandable.
“We’ve all been through a large change in our lives over the last few months and have been constantly bombarded by news and media reports of infections and death rates,” they say.
Create a routine
Anxiety UK have created a raft of resources to help those suffering from ‘coronanxiety’, including blog posts, webinars and access to apps and helplines. One of their main tips to feeling calmer during this time is to create a routine, with a suggestion that going out for regular exercise is a great step to take in reconnecting with the outside world.
On their blog they say: “Start getting used to the sounds of the outside world again. If nothing else, your body will appreciate the exercise if you’ve not been keeping active and will burn up any excess adrenaline that your anxious body might be producing.”
If you’ve been going to bed and waking up at erratic times, now is the time to stop that and give yourself more of a schedule. Same goes for eating meals. Pre-lockdown life had a definite rhythm to it and while the new world may still move at a much slower pace, it’s good to start getting your body, mind and life back into some sort of structure, however small.
Think about what you can control
Anxiety – whether it’s about losing a job or letting your child go back to school – often stems from feeling a lack of control. In lockdown, we were told what to do and when to do it but as we ease our way out of it, we’ll be given more freedom and this could create anxious feelings.
Lynette Evans, an experienced Integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist at The Listening Helper, says one way to reduce anxiety is think about the things you can control.
“It is hard not to get caught up in the ‘What if?’ scenarios at this time but it will only create anxiety and stress for us,” she says.
“What we need to do is try and get into the NOW and doing what you can do today. This can bring positive control within our responses and emotions.
“In the situation of going out and going to school, get information from reliable sources i.e. not social media. These will give you steps to help minimise any potential risks and by taking those steps you are able to exert some control over the situation yourself.”
Take it slowly
You don’t have to return to your old ways of life instantly. Take it one day at a time. Meditation or mindfulness can be really useful here. I’ve been meditating daily with the Calm app to help keep me grounded, however, I also use a simple breathing technique when I feel the panic rising.
– Find a comfortable position, whether sitting and standing, and breathe in for 4 seconds.
– Hold your breath for a count of 7.
– Exhale for a count of 8
I even do this when I’m out and about and feeling anxious and it soon restores my breathing to normal and my panic subsides. You can repeat as and when – try it today!
Now, some of my friends are gagging at the bit to hang out and get more of a social life now the lockdown is being eased. I’m not so keen, preferring to take baby steps, but it can be awkward when talking to people who don’t have the same fears and anxieties that you do.
Life coach Carole Ann Rice believes the key here is be honest with your family and friends about your feelings.
“Everyone is living in a state of fear,” she says. “It’s going to take us all some time to emerge blinding into the light again.”
She continues: “Explain your reasoning – whether it be anxiety over contracting the virus yourself or putting vulnerable people at risk. Ask them for patience.”
Carole also suggests giving persistent friends options such as a Zoom catch-up or phone call.
Keep your distance
Now is not the to banish precautions – practise social distancing and wash your hands regularly. I’ve been on dog walks before and literally stood in a bush to ensure I keep my distance from other dog walkers. I’ve got some odd looks – perhaps they don’t care about the distancing like I do or perhaps they’re alarmed to see a woman in a bush – but I don’t care as it keeps me feeling safe.
Social distancing is here to stay and if it makes you feel in control, carry on doing it and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise!
Lynette says inevitably lockdown will have given people a sneaky peek into a different way of life – but that doesn’t have to stop when we come out of this.
“By breaking my old routines, the lockdown has re-orientated my work/life balance,” she admits.
“It has given me the opportunity to reflect and remove non-essential “stuff” from my life. I have realised that the things that I have missed most are free i.e. time spent with my friends and family, walks on the beach.
“Time is our most precious resource, and after lockdown I will be using it in ways that bring me joy and closeness with others.”
If you’ve never kept a gratitude journal, now could be the perfect time. Simply put, at the end of every day, just note down three things to be grateful for. It’s an easy way to shift your focus from your fears to those things that make you happy. Why not download our gratitude journal and start today?
So, that’s your personal situation taken care of, but what if you’re a business owner? Helen Taylor, who runs wedding boutique The Bridal Box in Devon, says re-opening her business has provided her with several sleepless nights.
“The hardest thing has been trying to interpret the guidelines given for ‘retail’ stores,” she explains.
“We don’t fall into the same category as high street clothing stores – our level of service is much more personal.
“We, like every other business re-opening, have had to do our risk assessments. We’ve had to work out our ’new normal’ without losing the personal touch, for a while there will be no more hugs on arrival or at that moment when the wedding dress is chosen!”
Her top tip for coming out of this and helping your business survive is communication.
“No matter how small, communicate with your clients, your suppliers and other local businesses – good relationships will help to carry us all through this,” she advises.
“Your clients and future clients need to know YOU, show them you are human, people buy from people they like.”
If you need more help on how to navigate getting your business back on its feet, Enterprise Nation has plenty of resources, including webinars, advisers and blogs.
On a personal level, Helen says she has enjoyed the lockdown as it’s made her stress less and helped give her a better work/life balance, two things she hopes continues after life goes back to normal. She’s also loved seeing how it’s brought businesses and people together.
“Over the last few months I’ve seen how people have worked together, been caring, supported local businesses and generally been more in touch with their local communities,” she says.
“I hope we don’t lose that! I also hope that I don’t get wrapped up in the little things that stressed me out before – this has been a wake-up call!”
Are you anxious about what life will be like post-lockdown? Share you comments below.w