Many of you around the world were forced into lockdown and had to spend the past two months in the comfort of your own homes. You were away from common stressors and anxiety triggers, and were likely living life at a much slower pace. Now with restrictions slowly beginning to lift, you may be having anxiety after lockdown, and wondering what your life will now be like.
My lockdown experience
I’m not sure about you, but I have not gone anywhere other than a weekly trip to visit my mom, the farmers market and the grocery store. My husband and I take regular walks around in our neighborhood. Since we want to respect social distancing, we are both on high alert when we see others walking towards us.
When I’m at the grocery store or farmers market, I immediately sense a tightening in my chest when people come too close, or if they are not wearing masks. I have noticed that I am hyper-vigilant and stressed when I am outside around large groups of people.
Life after lockdown
Perhaps you are not having anxiety after lockdown, however, you are concerned about what your new life will be like. Both my husband and I have been working from home, and the lockdown has created a safe bubble for us to safely co-exist. The threat of bursting this bubble and returning to our pre-lockdown life makes me feel very anxious.
“Change and uncertainty are difficult for most of us to deal with, and can affect our mental health and well-being, potentially leading to increased stress, anxiety and depression.”Stephen Buckley, Mind for Better Mental Health
What is helpful to remember is that in our lifetime, none of us have ever lived through a pandemic before. Nobody knows exactly what the future will look like.
How was it for you to adjust to life in lockdown? It took me a long time and I was reminded about why change is so hard and had to navigate the phases. I was not prepared to work, exercise, and socialize all via a virtual platform.
Though I miss parts of my life pre-lockdown, I am taking things slow. Here’s how you can prepare and tackle your anxiety after lockdown.
1. Come up with a plan
One of the best ways to manage your anxiety after lockdown is to come up with a plan. For some people this may sound rigid, but if you’re someone who suffers from depression or anxiety, having a sense of control helps you feel significantly better.
Perhaps you are anxious about returning to your office? Or you may be worried about what will happen when your children return to school? Whatever the stressor is, one easy way to manage it is to push pause, and practice Socratic Questioning.
How to practice Socratic Questioning for anxiety
- Ask yourself the following three questions:
- What’s the worst that can happen?
- The best that can happen?
- The most likely thing to happen?
You will feel more prepared by practicing asking and answering these questions. In addition, taking the time to think about these questions prevents you from going down the rabbit hole of ruminating and worrying.
I loved this article 5 Rules to Live By During a Pandemic by New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope. I appreciated the harm-reduction suggestions and the idea of forming a “quarantine pod.” I now have better ideas to slowly reintegrate back to our community.
2. Returning to the office? Take one day at a time!
The lockdown has shifted your day to day life. Instead of commuting to the office everyday, you simply walked to your home office and started your work day. Perhaps you will now have to wear a mask and practice social distancing when you return to your office.
Whatever happens, remember that you can take it one day at a time and at your own pace.
If your office re-opens, but you can still work from home, build up your attendance in the office, so you slowly re-establish a routine that’s comfortable for you.
If you are unable to have control over when you return to work, talk openly with your manager about safeguards that can be put in place to help you feel safer in the office environment.
Remind yourself about what you enjoyed about your office
To reduce your anxiety, try reminding yourself about what you enjoyed about being in the office. I know that I loved having tea in the morning and talking with my colleagues about our favorite Netflix show.
You can also try to reframe the anxiety and think of it as excitement to return to work.
Yes, it’s a big change to go from no commute and working from home, to returning to an office environment. However, think of it as an opportunity to have a separate work and home space, and cultivating more balance in your life.
3. Plan to do what you love again
Living in lockdown during COVID-19 was surreal and unlike anything you have ever experienced. It’s natural and healthy to take it slow and see how things transpire over the coming weeks.
One activity you can try to do to alleviate anxiety after lockdown is to make a list of things you love and miss doing. You can also journal and write about what aspects of your pre-lockdown life you want to start integrating in your “new normal.”
It’s worth capturing and writing down the activities that you’re missing right now. For example, eating sushi at a restaurant or having a movie night at your friends house.
Consider organizing these kinds of events, as well as finding virtual alternatives in the interim. My friends and I have been having a weekly Netflix Party which is a wonderful way to connect virtually.
4. Reflect on the priorities in your life
One amazing truth that came out of being in lockdown is that it forced many of us to slow down. Since we had no obligations and were not pressured to attend social gatherings, we found a different, more relaxing and tranquil pace of life.
As a licensed clinical social worker, I spoke with many of my clients during the lockdown. Several expressed that they were sleeping better, found more time to cultivate relationships with their children and partners.
Most importantly, my clients noticed that they felt significantly less stressed. The slower pace of life appealed to them and they greatly appreciated it.
What about you, did you find activities like planting a garden to manage your stress and anxiety? Whatever new behavior or activity you started engaging in, it’s helpful for your mental health to continue and integrate these practices as you adapt to your life after lockdown.
Take time to think about what makes you happy
In addition, right now is a good time to reflect on your priorities. Take some time to really think about what makes you happy. Think about what enhances your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health.
Reflecting will help you tackle your anxiety after lockdown.
“What mindsets, habits, and relationships are adding the most joy to my life, and which are draining the most life out of me? What can I do about these?”Dr. Perpetua Neo
Perhaps you realized during the lockdown that some of your “friends” do not add value to your life. You noticed that you felt better not being around them.
Or you saw that the numerous extracurricular activities your kids are participating in are overwhelming for them. Instead, they are happier doing less.
Taking the time to reflect and assess is a wonderful activity for anyone. If you suffer from anxiety, it is an especially helpful exercise.
Reflection helps reduce your worries, fears and illustrates that you have valuable internal resources you can access. Once you have identified these resources, find out how you can incorporate them in your day-to-day life.
5. Be mindful about social media & the news
Some people find that being well-informed helps them cope with uncertainty. If you decide to read the news, try reliable sources that are based on facts, not speculation.
In addition, set limits on the amount of time you set aside to read the news. Too much time and you may find your anxiety escalating.
If you find that you begin feeling anxious, switch off from reading or watching the news. Instead, engage in some self-care activities. You can try reading a book, writing, baking or calling a friend on the phone. These activities will improve your mood and decrease your stress.
6. Practice self-care
In order to cope better with your anxiety after lockdown, it is critical that you continue your self-care routine. Remember, self-care is any activity that you practice with intentionality. These practices help take care of your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.
When you suffer from anxiety, your brain responds with a stress response. Consequently your body is flooded with cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are your body’s biological response to fear. They’re designed to be activated for a short period of time to keep you safe.
If your stress becomes chronic, these hormones remain in your system for much longer than they were designed for. Their constant presence increases inflammation in your body. As a result, your immune system is compromised, you may experience sleep problems and a change in your appetite.
Therefore, it is important to practice self-care to reduce your stress and anxiety. Some simple self-care practices are the following: go on a mindful walk, spend time in nature, try a yoga class, call a friend, start journaling, read a book, watch a funny movie and focus on getting quality sleep.
7. Practice gratitude and kindness
What stood out for me during the lockdown was the amazing capacity of human kindness, creativity, love and generosity.
Gratitude for my community
I was awestruck by the volume of people who volunteered and donated to our local food bank. I was grateful to work for the local healthcare organization that allowed social workers, like myself, to work remotely from home. And most of all, I was inspired by the creative manner people used to connect with one another.
“We are all inextricably linked. What touches one person has the power to infect many. We need to stay very conscious about showing up in a way that spreads connection, empathy, and passion as we all begin to re-enter the world. I believe it is our responsibility to be conscious of our emotional impact on others.”Christine Mills
Take time to express gratitude to the people in your life that helped you get through this unusual and life altering pandemic.
Gratitude for essential workers
Think of all those “essential workers” like food suppliers, health care workers, delivery people, and first responders, who showed up each day to work and took on the risks to themselves to benefit the rest of us. That is truly altruistic and selfless in my opinion.
Find a way to express your gratitude and say thank you to these courageous people. Perhaps you write a card to your postman and thank them for showing up every day. Or you get a box of chocolate for your pharmacist with a note to let them know you care.
“Since sincere gratitude is a premier social glue in both personal relationships and society at large, offering it helps build a kinder, more compassionate society—something we should all keep in mind.”Jill Suttie, Greater Good UC Berkeley
What’s unique about expressing gratitude is that it feels good for you, the recipient and anyone who witnesses it. As a result, it creates a virtous generosity cycle.
Now I think we need a little bit more of that in our world, don’t you?
8. Seek mental health support
Remember, there is a significant difference between having emotional ups and downs, and a prolonged period of emotional distress. The main difference is that your daily functioning (eating, sleeping, moving, working, communicating) drastically change, and you aren’t doing those activities like you normally do.
If you’ve tried steps #1-7 and find that you continue to struggle with severe stress and anxiety after lockdown, then please reach out to a mental health professional.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength, courage and valor.
There are several online counseling platforms where you can get immediate access to a licensed mental health professional. If you already have a therapist, contact them and set up a virtual session.
One lesson I’ve learned during the pandemic is the importance of taking care of my mental health. As someone who suffers from both depression and anxiety, the first few weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown were filled with panic, despair, sadness and fear.
It took me a while to adjust to being at home, and now I’m used to it and feel anxious about what life will be like after lockdown.
For anyone out there who suffers with their mental health, trust me, I’m in the same boat and riding this wave with you.
To get through this next phase together, it helps to remember that you have a lot of control over what will transpire. Unlike the lockdown where you were forced to shelter indoors, now you get to make an active choice every day on how you want to proceed with your day to day activities. If you’re not ready to go outside to resume your old activities, then you can take a gradual and more mindful approach.
Doesn’t that feel empowering?
I know I certainly feel better knowing that I have a sense of control and direction on choosing what to do. Remember to come up with a plan, take it one day at a time, and start thinking about doing the activities you love.
In addition, take time to reflect, practice self-care, kindness and gratitude towards yourself and those who helped you get through this challenging pandemic.
Lastly, remember to limit your intake of news and seek mental health support if you find that you continue to have a hard time managing your anxiety.
Now I am super curious, how are you feeling about life after lockdown and our “new normal?” What are you excited about? Nervous or anxious about? What have you tried that helps you feel less anxious and more empowered to face these new changes? Please share your stories and comments below.