What is back to normal anxiety, and how can we deal with it?

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Back to ‘normal’ anxiety is best defined as experiencing fear or worry about the leaving of lockdown restrictions and returning to normal life. What are the key reasons that people may be experiencing this anxiety?

Ending lockdown is potentially as hard as starting lockdown for many of us. We have adjusted to a new way of life; we went into survival mode as that is the biological response to any threat. We adjusted to staying local or staying at home and keeping a distance from others including our loved ones. We need to take time to adjust to new ways of living day to day and some things (such as mask wearing) might remain different for a long time to come and there will be further adjustment to this. The rules are not yet static and it can still feel unsafe for some people to venture out from their safe place.

Our situations are unique to us and whilst some people may be excited to get out, return to work and their usual routines for sport and to meet up with friends and family, there are many people feeling nervous about this. It is important to not only be mindful of others who may have worries about the easing of lockdown but also to not be harsh on ourselves if we prefer to take it slowly.

For individuals and families more vulnerable to the virus, those shielding to protect themselves and others and also for those that have developed anxiety or depressive symptoms during the course of the pandemic, the outside world may seem like a dangerous place, it is this fear that leads to anxiety. Many people will have experienced bereavement and the normal process of grieving has been made harder by restrictions on social contact and even funeral services. These traumatic experiences can lead to PTSD. To venture out after such experiences can be so daunting.

The pandemic has caused a global increase in anxiety- not just about becoming ill or dying from Covid but also about our financial stability and job security, about our loved ones and neighbours, how our children are coping and the loss of time in education and seeing their peers, about loneliness and isolation, about our key-workers and health staff putting themselves in danger to travel to and be at work, about our appearances, we have more unease about the future – will there be more pandemics and when will this end?….we have become more anxious and this has contributed to the almost inevitable anxiety around having to adjust yet again. This time however, there seems to be a divide between those feeling relief and joy about the end of lockdown and those taking tentative steps out. This contributes to a kind of social anxiety – a fear of being judged, mocked or criticised by others if our reactions are not in line with the majority.

Top tips/strategies to help with this anxiety?

Look out for changes in sleep patterns and recurring thoughts or worries. If you are watching the news or checking social media more than usual and you feel tense or nervous then you may benefit from taking some steps to reduce anxiety.

Avoid avoidance – take gradual steps if that feels safe and set yourself a goal to build up the time you spend outside. Be gentle with yourself if that feels right for you.Accept that there are things that we cannot control. You can limit how much social media and news that you watch. Shift the focus from these and ask yourself if these are helpful or contributing to the anxiety that you are feeling.Focus on the present – on what you need right now to feel okay.

Talk about your concerns with a trusted friend or family member or with your employer if you are concerned about a return to work.

Seek professional help if the worrying thoughts and feelings become overwhelming and you are struggling to cope or you have any thoughts of harming yourself. There is a lot of help available and this can be online.

Try to keep a healthy routine of sleeping, eating well and limit any substance or alcohol use.

Structure the day to include a balance of work and pleasure, of achievement and enjoyment and maintain positive connections with others.

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