In my mental health practice, feelings around the easing of lockdown restrictions have been a persistent theme with clients. For many creating personal meaning from what they have weathered over the past year is critical to how they take control of post-lockdown.
The global pandemic has had an impact on all aspects of our lives.
What has been revealed is we may have all been on the same rough sea, but we have all been in very different boats. The wave of intermittent lockdowns has meant many have had to work harder, to just keep their boat buoyant and not be becalmed or even sunk.
Whilst for others the easing of restrictions has been something to yearn for. As the milestones out of lockdown chalk up, they have jumped at celebrating their restored freedoms with diaries full of brunches, hair appointments and hugs, all signalling ‘hope’ that we are taking even greater strides towards ‘normality.
For others, this new and changed world is now a source of increased stress and anxiety, despite how desperate they are to see their families and pals.
The virus hasn’t gone away, the mask-wearing, the social distancing remains alongside ‘vaccines, variants and third wave’ public health’s cautionary messaging. All of which adds to many peoples’ feelings of apprehension.
What we do every day becomes our norm and comfort zone. Being told that we can now pick up our ‘old lives’ can feel surreal given that the world feels so different. Feeling increased stress and anxiety is only natural when relearning to be in a world we haven’t inhabited for months.
When we do something that’s new and different, our brain is set up to give us a little spike in stress. It’s our brain’s way of saying “you haven’t done this in a while, stay alert and be careful.” That’s just our ancestral survival response.
Life in lockdown has offered many of us a comforting cocoon. A rare space to slow down to take a breath, re-evaluate our lives, work out what’s important and what we value for ourselves and our community. Some people have made personal discoveries about who and what they want more of in their life, resulting in decluttering more than just their cupboards.
But more freedoms can bring their own mix of conflicting feelings of relief and dread. Discovering how we can reassure ourselves, at our own pace during this change is critical.
Here are 5 fieldwork practices to brave your re-engagement with your everyday life.
1.Your next life chapter
There is no ‘re-entry rule book’ to how you ‘should’ feel right now as the world starts to reopen.
Do you feel pressured to join the pack, fit in and belong? Remember that we are all unique and experience our lives differently. Any feeling of anxiety, stress or even burnout is normal right now. There is no shame in admitting that.
‘Re-entry anxiety’ is a specific form of stress-related to fear of being unable to adapt to how we used to live. Only you know what you have weathered and survived over the past year. Can you respect and validate how you are feeling right now with no conditions attached to what you ‘should’ or ‘must’ feel?
We can fall into a trap of justifying or explaining or making excuses for how and why we are the way we are. To change our truth, we simply have to change the stories we tell, go at our pace and believe in ourselves.
Pay attention to the stories you tell or carry about yourself. What will feature in your next life chapter? Ask yourself, how can you start telling a new story today that reclaims who you are, empowers and excites you rather than shrinks you?
2.Reclaim your circle of control
Creating your own meaning from the past year can help you to be mindful of not just what you come through, but also what you have learned about yourself. All too often we can get caught in the cycle of comparison and despair. Distracted by concerns in our lives and the world that we have no control over.
Focusing on where you can bring influence in your life can offer a healthier recovery practice. Start by drawing a circle within a circle. Write down, in the outer circle what concerns you today. Every single thing that is clogging up your brain and adding to your stress.
Then in the inner circle list all the areas you can control in your life right now. Practice shifting your focus to what you can influence in your own life daily. Keeping your mind and actions on what you want more of in your life and off what you don’t want. What do you notice?
3.Redirect your social anxiety energy
Face-to-face conversations have been limited for many of us over the past months. Even people who may normally think of themselves as being extroverts might notice a bit of social anxiety as they start to reconnect with friends and colleagues in person.
Many people in social situations hold themselves to standards of being exceptional and the life and the soul of the party – instead, see how you can relax yourself and make it about being good enough, rather than pressuring yourself to be the best!
It’s about recognising patterns of behaviour that lead to negative thoughts and trying to stop them from happening in a constant cycle.
It takes a lot of energy to actually interact with people when we are constantly thinking about what other people’s perception of us is.
Next time you are feeling under pressure try redirecting your energy – instead of stressing about all the outcomes of a social situation, think instead about what you can do to feel more at ease. Turn the spotlight [in your mind] off you and on to others in social anxiety-provoking situations.
Press ‘stop’ on overthinking, especially back to previous social situations you’ve found uncomfortable and concentrate on what’s in front of you. Focus your energy on being interested in the other person, showing empathy and kindness towards them rather than being stuck inside your own anxious mind.
Remember people who we want in our lives will accept us if we accept ourselves.
4.Manage your sensory overload
As you start to reengage with the world you may notice it brings a rush of sounds, technicolour sights and eclectic smells that are very different to the isolation of your own home. For some people, this means sensory overload, which is a feeling of overwhelm caused by too much information.
If this is you, then consider how you can build up your tolerance gently by challenging yourself to try something different every couple of days. Keep a journal track of what you are achieving. Slow and steady does it and recognise every achievement, no matter how small it may seem.
5.Seek professional support
If your anxiety or stress about the easing of restrictions is affecting your daily life, you may want to speak with a professional therapist. They can help you explore your feelings, acknowledge and accept them and support you to find a way to cope that works for you.
Think of these practices as an encouraging invitation not a rigid prescription. They are offered simply to embolden you to play with something different at your own pace. No rules apply about how many practices you must complete.
The important thing is to just get started and reflect on what you are learning to keep moving yourself forward. Trust yourself and your pace, not what you imagine is expected of you.
You are naturally creative and resourceful. You have everything you need. Trust in yourself. After all, you have made it this far!
Article by Charlie Gavigan from Brave Your Day. Connect with Charley in the CEC directory.