Five Tips For Managing Anxiety As Lockdown Eases
Last summer when the first lockdown eased; I was the first in the queue for the pub reopening. The first one knocking on the restaurant door. If I’d been lucky enough to have had one of my three children in the correct year group to be able to return to school… you’ve guessed it; I would’ve undoubtedly been first in the queue to drop them off. My natural leaning throughout all of this has been to act as ‘normally’ as possible and strive to reclaim any sniff on normality when it’s on offer.
However I’m aware that this pandemic has put us all at different points on this huge sliding scale of anxiety. I’m also conscious that while I’m excitedly counting down the days to being able to socialise again, there will be plenty of people dreading the lockdown easing and all the social contact that will come from that.
I spoke to the wise and wonderful consultant psychologist Dr Emma Honey to get some advice to help those of us who need some help managing our anxiety as lockdown eases.
As a natural introvert; when Sarah asked me to think about some top tips for managing anxiety and worry about lockdown easing, I wondered if I was really the right person to do this. But, maybe the fact that you can also hear that there are other people who feel worried about yet another shift in our day to day activities is enough to let you know that you are not alone. There’s also the fact that change is hard for all of us, uncertainty is even harder. Even those who are raring to get out as much and as soon as possible are likely to have anxiety relating to the uncertainty of what ‘out out’ will look like, whether it will happen when we think, what will happen if it doesn’t happen etc etc. So if you are anxious about the end of lockdown coming here’s some tips which might help.
- Name it – the first step in managing any emotions which we are struggling with is to recognise it and to give it a name. That feeling in your tummy, those thoughts in your head, that racing heart or sweaty palm whenever anyone mentions that they can’t wait to be down the pub in droves come mid April. Could that be anxiety or worry or fear – whatever it is you call it in your house. Giving it a name, acknowledging that it is there rather than ignoring it, pushing it away, trying to not look it in the eye – it can be hugely beneficial.
- Graded exposure – by that I mean take baby steps. Us psychologists often use a technique called graded exposure where we break difficult or anxiety provoking tasks down into smaller steps or stages and we support people to tackle them one at a time. So if you are worried about going to the pub, meeting up with loads of people, being back in the office with everyone again, going to a busy supermarket – think about how you can do just one of these things in a phased way and then build from there. Think about it as you might rehabilitation from a physical injury – if you have sprained your ankle you might need to do short, manageable chunks of walking before you get back out training for your marathon.
- Embrace who you are and remember it’s ok to say no! I’ll be honest, the biggest fear for me is having to go back to thinking of excuses. As a natural introvert I often find myself dreading social occasions, and wonder how I can get out of them. Sometimes I need a gentle nudge to go and then have a wonderful time but other times I struggle to just be honest and say to well meaning friends that actually I am just fancying a night in with myself. Now more than ever gives us a great opportunity to change this and give ourselves permission to say no. But when you do this, be honest why. Say no, I feel too anxious to do that – perhaps your friend or family will come up with a different plan. Say no, I feel like I have done enough socialising this week and they might rearrange for another day. The relief of honesty over having to conjure up excuses reduces the additional anxiety and pressure which we place on ourselves.
- Mindfulness – I know, you will have read so much about mindfulness but it really is a brilliant way to slow down our thinking and help us to quieten our mind, reduce physical arousal and help us to make more considered choices. If your mind is busy then try a short mindfulness exercise. I love Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer as my go to apps. But if you are out and feel anxious then try doing some deep breathing or use the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique – notice 5 things you can see, notice 4 things you can hear, notice 3 things you can feel, notice 2 things you can smell and notice 1 thing you can taste.
- A final note – for those of you who might read this and wonder how people can be anxious about these social opportunities returning, please be kind and remember that we all have different needs, different approaches and different strengths. For some lockdown might have been a welcome reprieve whilst for others it will have been a real slog. As with all these things kindness and compassion goes a long way.
Is your child also showing signs of being affected by lockdown-related anxiety? Check out these great books which might help you, to help them.