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Why it's ok to be anxious about leaving lockdown

Liz Ritchie, St Andrew's psychotherapist speaks to Yahoo about why as lockdown restrictions are gradually eased anxiety is setting in as we prepare to adapt to a “new normal”.

"As lockdown eases, many of us are already having anxious thoughts about life returning to “normal” and the reintegration into society or ‘Post-lockdown anxiety.

During lockdown, for those who are not key workers, we have become accustomed to the shift from 100 miles per hour to a much slower pace of life. We therefore no longer need to multitask and deal with the panic, stress and anxiety provoking activities, that for many was very much part of pre-lockdown life.

As the pause button was pressed, we became bombarded with messages demanding that we 'stay home, stay safe,' stay alert". Many of us felt terror, heightened anxiety and a sense of imprisonment. But this enforced change became our routine, our safety net and our new “norm” and was very much integrated into our Covid-19 timeline.

With lockdown easing, it is understandable therefore that we might feel a sense of worry and anxiety. The kind of fear and anxiety that we are experiencing post lockdown can also be useful as it prevents us from taking risks and being irresponsible. It is normal to feel a degree of uncertainty about the future, and the still looming fear of the virus and its long-term impact. This shift once again will instil fear, lack of control and heightened anxiety for many.

How can we safely “undo” lockdown messages and re-enter post lockdown life? Firstly it is alright to have a certain amount of worry and anxiety. However, acceptance of change and the need for flexibility as well as being mindful of unrealistic expectations of ourselves, must be a prerequisite if we are to re-enter this next phase in a safe and healthy way.

Acknowledge that change is not easy, so remember to be gentle and kind and show yourself some self-compassion.  Be mindful of the benefits that lockdown has brought for many and carry them forward into the next phase.  We can now appreciate the sense of safety that staying at home has provided for many, perhaps we can now appreciate life in a more simplistic way by enjoying spending quality time and reconnecting with our families. This is perhaps something that was deficient in pre-lockdown life.

Perhaps we can now acknowledge and appreciate the benefits of slowing down our pace of life, to enable us to be more mindful of both our physical and mental well-being.

The key message therefore is to try and take one step at a time. Focussing too far ahead can be overwhelming and cause unnecessary anxiety, particularly for those who struggle with the need to control. Avoid social media and news updates that may lead to overkill. The amount of how much news you consume is something which is very much within all our control, and certainly needs to be managed in a way that prevents anxiety levels from being heightened. Have a focus on healthy coping strategies like exercise that you enjoy, food that you enjoy. This will help to remove you from a place of catastrophizing and in turn exacerbating feelings of helplessness and anxiety."