Gedling-based counsellor Elaine Bond aims to help those feeling anxious about restrictions being lifted
No matter whether we think it is the right thing to do or not, lockdown is being eased and that means that we are getting more freedom than we have had for weeks. Now we must create a ‘new normal’ as we are already used to such things as home schooling, home working, isolation, or no privacy and now we have to deal with the change.
No one knows what the next few weeks will look like, but most of us will share the same concerns: what is the true risk of meeting up with our social bubble, what about going to the pub or hairdressers, will our workplace protect us from infection and what happens if we get coronavirus now the measures and treatment regimens have been relaxed.
Of course, before easing, the government has given us instructions on how to work, travel and exercise. This was a bit like being institutionalised and controlled to keep us safe. We now have to make our own risk assessments and decisions on how we behave. This can be stressful especially if the instructions we have are vague and we cannot control how other people behave. The best way we can deal with this is to take control of what we can, such as hand washing, wearing a mask and social distancing. Thus controlling how we keep ourselves safe.
It is inevitable that we will feel anxious about all of these changes, and we need to give ourselves and our families time to get used this. The routines we set up when we went into lockdown have had a positive affect on our mental health and give us a reason to get up, exercise, work, do schoolwork etc. We are now able to change that routine by giving ourselves more freedom and choice., A period of transition will help us to work with the changes and create a new routine to help us with our mental health. It is okay to set boundaries about socializing with people if you are not ready to start this or feel the risk is too great right now.
No matter what we feel during this transition, which could be fear, joy or anything in between, is valid and even if everyone around us is okay, we do not have to be.
Covid 19 will have had an effect on all of us., For a key worker there maybe burnout, for those who have lost a friend or relative during lockdown there will be grief and maybe a lack of closure as we could not attend the funeral. For others, issues that could be distracted from normally, will become obvious or obsessive., Some of us may have turned to self-medicating with food, alcohol or drugs and isolation will have caused some of us to feel depressed, self-harm or even suicidal. With the easing of lock down, this is the time to get help with all these issues, as we can now access more services either online or face to face.
For some of us there will be a sudden return to work or school and that can make us feel overwhelmed. We can take small steps to return to work/school etc, such as starting with setting an alarm everyday and getting up when it goes off and maybe even move it away from you so you cannot press snooze! We can add some exercise everyday if we were not already doing so, contacting work/school to check out what they expect from us and how they will protect us on our return can be helpful too.
We need to be kind to ourselves, stop the critical voice we all have that says ‘you should be okay, get on with it‘ etc. We need to treat ourselves with compassion and patience.
Being able to acknowledge and name our emotions as they arrive will help. The more we try to stop feeling sad or scared the more it will persist. With feelings we need to remember what we resist persists, (this is the favourite saying of a really good therapist I know).
A great way to deal with any of our anxieties is to have a worry window, which is a thirty minute period every day to review your concerns , reality check them and find ways to mitigate any risks you are concerned about. Also, planning how we will do the essential things we need to do with the least risk and soothing our worries the best ways we can is also useful.
Looking after ourselves is key right now, by having a healthy diet, limiting caffeine and alcohol, not smoking, exercise, sleep and spending time being mindful will all help us through the transition.
Finally have a balance between having enough reliable information to protect ourselves vs a media overload. Watching the news once a day and limiting our social media will stop some of the paranoia we may have because bad news sells , good news does not !