First, let's properly understand what exactly post-lockdown anxiety is.
Are you having recurring thoughts or worries about the future as you prepare for life post lockdown? Even when you are at work, are you feeling unsettled and tense and are constantly checking the news or social media about COVID-19? Then you may be having post-lockdown anxiety.
“We went into the coronavirus lockdown with the understanding that it was protecting us from harm. If you've been told that it's not safe to be out and about, it's only natural that leaving lockdown would trigger anxiety for some people," says Mumbai-based clinical psychologist, Dr. Shilpa Aggarwal.
The thing is, when we were at our home during the lockdown, our home had become a "safe bubble". Now that we are coming out of that bubble, and will be forced to interact with others, we are apprehensive about re-entering a potentially deadly world. It is thus natural to feel anxious about it.
Accepting the ‘new normal’
You might have heard the phrase ‘new normal’ plenty of times over the last couple of months and it is time we accept what it actually means. The earlier we admit that this is the new way of life, at least for some time to come, the better it would be for us. Acknowledge that this situation and your feelings are real. Remember, however, that you are not alone in this. The entire world is going through this pandemic.
Accepting our new reality in the post-lockdown world is the first step towards moving forward and finding solutions to our issues with re-entry or post-lockdown anxiety.
Ease your way back into a social life
For many of us, it won’t be easy to get back into a social life post lockdown. You might see your co-workers or the average man on the street, going about their life normally, even though they are covered in face masks and gloves. That’s okay and perfectly normal. The virus has challenged our previous sense of security and each one of us will react differently to this new world post lockdown.
Hence, it is important to ease your way back into your social life. This will allow you to ease into previously uncomfortable situations. “As quarantine ends, the auto-avoidance will also end, necessitating their introduction back into situations they deeply fear. That’s not a leap anyone should take all at once,” says Dr. Allie R. Shapiro, a psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry.
The best way to start right now is to connect with those in your close inner circle. Many might not be ready right now to see new people face-to-face. To tackle this, experts suggest making it a point to talk with a different person each day over the phone or via video chat. This will help us get a little taste of something that makes us anxious and then wait for the anxiety to simmer down.
It took a lot of us several weeks to adapt, both physically and emotionally, to live in social isolation. You can't expect your body and mind to adjust again right away. It will take time and patience to adjust to this new way of life and you must allow yourself that time. Even if it is the simplest social or outdoor interaction, your mind might not be ready. Thus, start where you feel the safest: a walk in the nearby park, meeting a friend, taking a cab, or even visiting a cafe.
Take it one day at a time
As easy and cliché as this may sound, it is of utmost importance, now more than ever, to try and avoid ruminating about the future or planning for it. This will only lead to more anxiety and stress.
“Take one day at a time; don’t try and think about what it will be like for the next few months, just focus on today and tomorrow, as it won’t be so overwhelming,” says leading hypnotherapist and phobia expert Adam Cox.
To elaborate further, you must acknowledge that there are things you can’t control and you certainly can’t control the lockdown lifting. However, what you can control is the amount of negative news about the coronavirus you consume. You can also control the time you give to thinking about a post-lockdown life. Be aware of the statistics, but don’t let them overwhelm you.
It is easier said than done, perhaps, but thinking too much about the negativity of the ongoing situation will only have an adverse effect on your overall health.
Focus on positive coping strategies
It is okay to be concerned and worried right now. However, when you allow those worries to become circular or overwhelming, they start to affect your enjoyment of life. Hence, we must find a way to focus on positive coping strategies at the moment. Monitor your inner dialogue and don’t allow them to contribute to your feelings of anxiety.
Exercise, meditation, walking outside and fresh air will certainly help during this time. Try and avoid unhealthy food, drinking, and smoking. Even if you are walking for 30 minutes on your terrace or meditating for 15-20 minutes every day, it will help a great deal. Right now, your top priority should be your emotional well-being.
What might also help is creating a calm environment, which can help to pacify your feelings. It might be something as simple as a comforting blanket, soothing music, or even a scented candle. These will eventually allow you to make self-nurturing activities a priority. Mental health experts also suggest establishing a positive routine and sticking to it. Pick out the most positive elements from your life (talking to family or friends, gardening, painting, playing with your pet, walking, or even reading) and focus your energy towards them.
The point is, we might not be able to prepare for everything we are going to encounter in the post-lockdown world. However, we can get our body and mind ready to handle difficult things beforehand. Thus, practicing self-care and positive coping strategies is vital at present. This will allow you to put yourself in a better position to handle anything that comes your way.
Don’t hesitate in seeking professional help
While many of us will be able to overcome our initial post-lockdown anxiety, many of us might struggle with it. There’s an atmosphere of doubt and it is natural to find ourselves questioning what is safe. That is perfectly normal. However, if those anxious thoughts and feelings continue to bog you down, then it would be better to reach out to a mental health professional.
Don’t hesitate and don’t be too hard on yourself, either. Remember, you are not alone. All of us are trying to get rid of these negative thoughts right now. A mental health expert would be able to help you check and control your anxiety. Therapy is also a useful tool in managing stress and understanding your emotions.