After lockdown: anxieties about returning to ‘normal’

With lots of people itching for lockdown restrictions to be lifted, you may feel like you are the only person who has reservations – please be reassured that you aren’t. COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown have created challenging and stressful times for many, but we also know that for lots of people with visible differences it has in some ways provided a welcome relief. Although you may be missing friends, colleagues, teachers and the routine of work or study, you may have found lockdown less stressful than having to attend school, going to work or being out in public. You may have felt safe and secure in your home, away from a sense of public scrutiny.

What are the challenges?

There are lots of reasons you might feel anxious about life returning to ‘normal’:

  • If your visible difference makes you feel shy, introverted or socially anxious, you may have enjoyed being cocooned at home. The thought of going back into the world again may feel daunting – like leaving your comfort zone. You may worry you’ve forgotten how to meet new people or be in face-to-face social situations; it’s like a muscle you haven’t exercised in a while.
  • Lockdown may have rekindled memories of times when you felt less confident and self-conscious about going outside due to your visible difference. Old anxieties may re-surface and you may worry about facing these difficulties again.
  • If you experience staring, questions or comments in your day-to-day life, lockdown may have presented a welcome break; a relief from dealing with other people’s reactions. It may be the longest time you can remember when you’ve not had to face these issues. You may feel you’ve lost confidence in handling these or like you’ve lost progress or momentum with things you worked hard on.
  • If you find your visible difference affects you at school or work, you may prefer doing these remotely, with the option to turn off your camera. You may now be worried at the thought of going to meetings or seeing colleagues face-to-face.
  • If life is ordinarily stressful, hectic and fast-paced, you may have relished the opportunity lockdown has offered to escape this and slow down and refocus on what’s important. It may feel hard to think about picking up the fast pace again.
  • You may be facing additional practical or health issues in returning to ‘normal’ life. You may be anxious about risks around commuting to work or school. You may worry about having to wear a mask – which may bring conflicting emotions for you around being ‘hidden’ from people and your self-image.
  • In a time where people are worrying a lot about their health, you may be anxious about being viewed as infectious in some way.
  • You may also be feeling guilt or shame because you’ve found some enjoyment in a time during where people are suffering. This might make it harder to explain your concerns to others, leaving you feeling isolated or worried.

Your concerns are valid

People talk about these being ‘unprecedented times’. Thinking about what this means can be a helpful way to make peace with how you feel. ‘Unprecedented’ means something that has never happened before. For better or worse, human beings are learning machines that look for patterns in events to work out how to feel and behave. This situation is entirely new. We cannot call upon past experiences; we have no frame of reference – and so there is no ‘right way’ to respond. Some people have struggled in lockdown, some people have thrived, and neither reaction is right or wrong. Each of us has our own experience of the situation.

What can I do?

Take your time. You might feel pressured to ‘snap back to reality’ as soon as lockdown is lifted, but it’s likely we will be emerging into a changed world and will need to adapt. Be gentle with yourself; take each day as it comes.

Take it step-by-step. You don’t need to throw yourself back into all your pre-lockdown activities and routines in one go – you can build them back up over time at a pace that feels comfortable and safe. You wouldn’t run a marathon having not left the house in two months: you’d work up to it! You can warm up in this scenario too.

Prepare in advance. It might help to think about situations or things that worry you the most. Try writing these down or talking them through with someone. Then think about how you might plan for these – what could help you to feel better, more prepared or give you confidence? Perhaps speak to your boss, or a trusted friend, colleague or teacher in advance, and make a realistic plan about returning to certain situations that feels okay and manageable.

How have you coped before? It may be good to remind yourself you have faced these situations before. Think about the techniques or approaches you have used in the past. Reflect on the things that help you to feel less worried. Remind yourself of your strengths and reflect on how far you have come. If you have done this before, you can do it again – and it may not take as long or be as difficult as you imagine.

Fact or opinion? Recognising that thoughts are not facts can be helpful to manage anxiety. Try taking a step back and consider if your thoughts are assumptions about what might happen, rather than fact. Checking in with yourself about these thoughts may help you to recognise if your fears are founded or not.

Take it in stages. If you’re anxious, start small. Go for a small walk to a familiar local café or park. Make some time to spend outside with a loved one (observing current government guidance about going out and social distancing). Try out going to a quieter public place at first – and take someone you trust with you for support.

‘Mix and match’. Just because you’re allowed to socialise face-to-face again doesn’t mean you have to abandon other ways of connecting. There’s no reason you can’t continue to connect with loved ones online or over the phone. If you have a weekly videocall that you’ve come to cherish, there’s no need to give it up just because lockdown has ended.

Share your concerns with someone you trust. Talk to a friend, a family member or a counsellor about your anxieties – you may find they are feeling something similar, have advice, or can offer you support and understanding.

Dedicated ‘worry time’. If you find your anxiety taking over, try having a time set aside for ‘worrying’. This can help you to not worry all the time. Some people find journaling helps with this – the act of writing worries down can help to control them.

Identify what helps you to relax. Try to notice what you find relaxing, for example, reading, watching TV, listening to music or taking a bath. Many people find physical exercise helps to relax them; activities such as yoga or dance. Others find relaxation exercises or mindfulness useful. Controlling breathing can physically calm the body, which in turn can help us to feel less stressed.

It is hard to live in such an uncertain time with these ever-changing circumstances. Hopefully, some of these approaches help you to feel less anxious and more in control of things. You may also be interested in reading our other factsheets.

Audio relaxation session

Our Senior Wellbeing Practitioner has created an audio relaxation session which may help to reduce anxiety around the easing of lockdown.

For adults and parents

Managing worry and anxiety

Read

Relaxation to manage anxiety

Read

Positive thinking

Read

After lockdown: worries about returning to school

Read

For children (12 and under)

What can I do about my anxiety?

Read

How can I relax?

Read

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