Leaving Lock Down may not be as easy as you think.

As various lockdown measures start to lift across the world, we’re seeing increased reports of a new kind of anxiety: ‘post-lockdown anxiety’ as it was recently dubbed by mental-health charity Anxiety UK. “[It’s] the fear or worry of returning to normal life and leaving lockdown.

As a generation, we have never been so anxious. Anxiety manifests itself cognitively by a loss of concentration, behaviourally by the avoidance of certain situations (fear), and physiologically in disturbed sleep, rapid breathing and emotional agitation often leading to hypervigilance.

Then along came coronavirus, bringing with it increased loneliness and concern for the safety of loved ones. Forced into isolation CV19 has given us new fears and anxieties, over social distancing, getting ill, possibly dying and a general unease about the future.  Our anxieties can range from a worry of being in public spaces to a fear of leaving the house in general.

Lock down was an opportunity to opt out of all the pressures of the outside world and actually come as a welcome relief. With more time to sleep, read, and reflect, some people with pre-existing mental health conditions are even seeing their moods improve — which is why the idea of ending lockdown is so jarring.

What will life after lockdown look like? How easy will it be to adjust to? How can we ensure that we will be safe? These anxieties are totally normal. It is when this anxiety starts to interfere with our everyday life that it becomes a cause for concern. From issues with sleeping to fears over leaving the house, causing people to think negatively, to worry or catastrophise about the future.”

Some of the top signs to look out for include: recurring thoughts or worries about the future, feeling unsettled or tense, issues with sleeping, constantly checking the news or social media about Covid-19 or lockdown rules, and in extreme cases, possible panic attacks.

For people who are shielding and who remain living under the most stringent measures fear about what will happen when these rules are lifted is obviously incredibly stressful. Stepping out of the house, for someone with anxiety, is already something they overthink’. Now patients must get used to that all over again because they have been desensitised.

‘’If you've been inside for a long time, it can feel very strange to go outside," says Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, a charity that supports people with mental health conditions. "You can lose your confidence to do things you haven't had to do in a while." For some a safe practice will indeed be a short drive in the car. Returning to work may involve face-to-face work meetings or using cramped public transport, can induce abject fear into those with anxiety proclivities. The one common factor we all share is the amount of change we have all gone through, in a noticeably short space of time.

Many ‘people have tried to cope by ‘loving being in lockdown’, by creating a cocoon of safety, a haven, to make the whole experience more tolerable.’

Ironically, that can create problems later because people can love their lockdown too much and become anxious about going outside. Some people are describing the emotions they are feeling as symptomatic of agoraphobia, but this is not accurate. Agoraphobia is a fear of going outside. Typically, people with agoraphobia will avoid certain situations because they are frightened of having a panic attack. These new cases (people anxious about life after lockdown) are not frightened of having panic attacks, they're frightened of infection.

With a little support the anxiety many people feel now will pass. But some people will have lingering psychological problems. Being told that you can venture into the scary outside world to get our ‘old life’ back but it does not remove the fact that the danger of infection remains. This raises difficult questions about how we are going to live and work and re-engage with the world.

Advice you might give: -

1. If you started a new hobby then continue with it, this will help maintain your routine as the world around you changes yet again and will give you an ongoing sense of achievement.

2. Deal with each worry; one way of coping might be to deal with each worry that you have. If you are really worried about work; find out more info about procedures in the workplace, what changes are in place.  

3. If your concern is about travel; then plan carefully how you are going to get there, what is the best time? Are there shifts in place? Is your company providing masks and free sanitizer, how are they enforcing social distancing?

4. If you are worried about shopping; then find a shop where you feel more comfortable.  For example, it may have wider aisles with less people and where you can see supermarket staff taking care to sanitise trolleys.  Shop at quieter times of the day, preferably midweek and not weekends.”

5. If you have issues of control, think about what you can and cannot control!

Some of my clients have found it helpful to look at areas of their life that they can and can’t control – most find that the ‘can’ list is longer than the ‘can’t’, which is empowering in itself. So, if you have enjoyed additional family time, try timetabling this into your week as a priority. The key here is you have a choice and moving on from lockdown does not mean that all control is taken away. The phrase keep calm and carry on is very apt here. If you are struggling with anxiety, then try to do activities or use strategies that help prompt the opposite feelings and help you feel calmer.

If you recognise that you are feeling particularly anxious, remember your breathing exercises. Try having a ‘calm box’, full of ‘anchors’ to indulge your five senses. Ideas could be a super-soft blanket to wrap around you, a scented oil or candle, chewing gum, a playlist of your favourite chill-out music, a photo that makes you smile, a feel-good novel., your favourite poems, or call your counsellor.

6. Make time to nurture yourself a priority.

Pick out the positives. Look for the small positives in your day to day life that help you feel better about lockdown easing and your situation. It could be something like ‘having an excuse to put on something other than a tracksuit’, ‘visiting the garden centre’ or, ‘meeting up for a socially distanced picnic with a friend’ – indulge in the positives, put on your best outfit, notice the vibrance and scent of the flowers, enjoy how the freedom of sitting outside, smiling and how reminiscing feels. Re-entry into business life could be an opportunity to review your own boundaries – what you will and will not accept – and plan to integrate these into your new, post-lockdown world.

7. Remember your past achievements YOU have coped with change before.

Four months ago, we would never have imagined spending ten weeks at home, with schools and shops closed, and unable to visit family or friends. We have already adapted to this major change in our lives, as well others over the years.

8. Take one small step at a time

It is important to recognise anxiety about lockdown easing is understandable – and you will not be alone in feeling it. Do not pressure yourself to feel better about this straight away. Instead take one small step at a time to help you overcome your anxiety.

You are in unchartered territory and so it will take time for you to process and get your head around it.

To have anxieties in the current climate is perfectly reasonable and finding ways to overcome them can be tricky but hopefully achievable by taking one small step at a time.Tips short list

Some of the top signs to look out for include: recurring thoughts or worries about the future, feeling unsettled or tense, issues with sleeping, constantly checking the news or social media about Covid-19 or lockdown rules, and in extreme cases, possible panic attacks.

  1. If you started a new hobby, then continue with it.
  2. Deal with each worry systematically.
  3. If your concern is about travel, make a plan to reduce your fear.
  4. If you are worried about shopping find out which supermarket is best prepared.
  5. Think about what you can and cannot control make a list.
  6. Make time to nurture yourself as a priority.
  7. Remember recent past achievements you have coped with change before and you can do it again.
  8. Take one small step as a time

References

Dr Steven Taylor, a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of British Columbia, in Canada. author of The Psychology of Pandemic, a book published just a few weeks before coronavirus emerged in China in late 2019.

Nicky Lidbetter  CEO Anxiety UK

Peter Bundell Wateringbury Counsellor.