How to ease post-lockdown anxiety
Lockdown has, at times, felt never-ending. It’s been a worrying time to say the least, so when the announcement came that lockdown rules would be easing it seemed that the country let out a collective sigh of relief. We’ll be able to see our family again soon! We can get haircuts, buy something from a ‘non-essential’ shop and – finally – we’ll be back on the pitch with MAN v FAT Football (and for those players in Scotland and Wales, your time will come soon!).
But what if you start feeling a little niggle in the back of your mind about suddenly being around large groups of people again? What if you’re finding yourself fretting about making small talk, or worrying when someone comes closer than 2m to you?
Believe it or not, this is completely normal. Of course, we’d all love an immediate switch back to normality that also takes our minds back a year and a half, when ‘pandemic’ was a vague part of the history books, but it’s not as simple as that. We’ve gone through a lot.
Dr. Alka Patel – GP, lifestyle medicine physician and founder of the Lifestyle First Method – reckons our post-lockdown anxiety has a lot to do with how difficult we find change.
Lockdown ending will be a huge transition for many, so to ease us through it she’s created the H.A.R.D formula, a series of easy-to-follow actions that can help us understand our fears and anxieties and allow us to evaluate and overcome them.
How to ease post-lockdown anxiety
Just as it took us some time to find ways of coping during lockdown, we should also expect that it may take a while to find our way back to ‘normality’ and to reconnect with life. Our situations are unique to us, so it’s important to try not to judge ourselves harshly based on what other people are doing. The H.A.R.D formula encourages you to take a good look at why you’re feeling the way you do, and to try and break it down into smaller chunks.
H – Hooked
Feelings of anxiety can be overwhelming, and you can find yourself hooked into the thoughts of your fears. So it’s a good idea to evaluate the reasons behind this hook. Consider the reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t take action to return to ‘normal’?
A – Avoiding Discomfort
Our feelings play out in our actions. Anxiety and fear are uncomfortable feelings. When you feel this way, the easiest way to avoid these feelings is to avoid actions that trigger them. Ask yourself, what am I doing or avoiding doing to stop these feelings of discomfort?
R – Realistic Goals
When shifting into a different pattern of action, whether you’ve done it before or not, ask yourself: “Am I trying to do too much, too quickly?”
For example, you might be anxious about returning to work and the commute that comes with it. To avoid fear and anxiety becoming overwhelming, think – what is the smallest step you can take that feels manageable? If you are worried about travelling on the bus, start just by standing at the bus stop for a few days and get used to the feeling. When it feels comfortable, get on just for one stop to practice until you can do more. You can then continue to layer these actions. While the fear of a long journey to work can result in avoidance, breaking this down into micro-changes can help to keep you moving forward
D – Distanced from Values
Change is hard when what you’re doing is not lined up with what is important to you. Fear can be a threatening emotion which means we hide, but fear can also remind you of what to do in terms of caring for yourself or others. Focus on who and what matters to you. If returning to normal feels hard, think about why you need to do what you’re afraid of doing. Focusing on your values will give your actions a sense of purpose and will provide the ignition you need to overcome your anxiety.
Above all, remember that it’s not a competition. There will be people who will be throwing parties, relishing in being able to throw themselves back into the middle of the action, but do what you feel comfortable with. If you’d rather see people one-to-one, that’s fine. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Post-lockdown anxiety won’t last forever.