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How to come out of a COVID-19 lockdown if you’re feeling anxious

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease around Australia for many of us, the gradual lifting of restrictions brings longed-for opportunities – meeting with friends and family once again, visiting the hairdressers or our favourite shops and restaurants, going on a road trip, or just simply going into the office to chat with your co-workers.

But what if you’re not excited about lockdowns ending? What if you’re anxious or apprehensive?

For some people, this renewed sense of freedom may prove just as anxiety-inducing as going into isolation was.

If you’re one of those people who is feeling apprehensive about when and how to venture out again, you’re not alone. Psychologists are referring to this new phenomenon as pandemic re-entry anxiety – the idea that, as society returns to something resembling pre-pandemic life, some of us are nervous about participating. 

Here are our top tips for managing the transition out of lockdown while protecting your mental health.

Maintain the positive habits you started at home

At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, many of us prioritised looking after our mental health and wellbeing at home. You may have started cooking more, eating healthily or exercising daily. Now you’re going back out into the world, it’s important that you continue to prioritise self-care; including exercise, a healthy diet, sleep and sticking with any hobbies or interests you started during the restrictions.

Take things at your own pace

Rather than diving headfirst back into things and trying to make up for lost time, experts recommend that you ease yourself back into your “normal” life. Taking small steps over time is one of the most effective treatments for re-entry anxiety.

Add activities and habits back into your routine at a pace that feels comfortable for you. For example, you could start with a walk on your own in the park or meeting one friend outside for a coffee together. When you’re comfortable with that, make it two friends. And so on.

It’s important not to judge yourself based on what others are doing and to allow yourself time to get back into the swing of things. Recognising that you need to go at the right pace for you is important. Don’t let others bully or pressure you into doing things you don’t want to – but try not to let that be an excuse not to push yourself. Adapting to the end of lockdown will likely take as long as it took you to adapt at the start of lockdown.

Don’t abandon what you enjoyed about lockdown

For some, lockdown has its benefits. A survey by the Australian National University found that two-thirds of people cited at least one positive impact COVID-19 has had on them, such as spending more time with family.

You may have exercised more or been less busy. You may have found you enjoyed spending Saturday relaxing on the couch. Lockdown may have given you the headspace to consider how you really want to spend your time or what your next career step should be.

But you don’t have to retire any new healthy habits just because you’ve been given more freedoms. Follow these tips from Beyond Blue if you want to hold on to the good stuff:

  • Decide on what you want to keep doing — and why. Identifying the changes that improved your life is the first step. Remind yourself it’s worth making the effort to keep them up.
  • Be prepared. You’re more likely to make unhealthy choices if you’re underprepared or disorganised. You could, for example, keep a pair of trainers under your desk for lunchtime walks or create weekly meal plans.
  • Avoid thinking in ‘modes’: for example, ‘lockdown mode’ versus ‘post-COVID mode’. Separating mindsets like this can make it harder to maintain good habits, so try not to think in terms of ‘then’ and ‘now’.

Seeing friends and family

Many friends and family members have stayed apart during lockdown. Seeing your loved ones face to face is a great way to boost wellbeing, and is particularly important if you’ve been going through lockdown alone, but you might find it feels strange at first.

Being cocooned at home may suit your personality, which may make the easing of restrictions less appealing. If you have social anxiety, the idea of reconnecting with people may heighten your fears and anxieties.

If it’s been a while since you met other people, and you feel unsure about it, try having a trial run with one person to build up your confidence. Discussing your concerns and boundaries openly and honestly can help to reassure you – for example, tell them how far apart you’d sit, whether you’ll be more comfortable wearing a face make, and if you prefer if they avoid touching shared surfaces.

Working from home

If you’re less than enthused about swapping your tracksuit for collared shirts, you’re not alone. An Australian Government Productivity Commission report found that most workers want to continue working from home — for at least some of the time.

Many workplaces are beginning to adopt a “blended” approach to working from home vs working in the office. So, If you’ve been working effectively from home and it’s boosting your work-life balance, now is a good time to talk to your employer about continuing to work flexibly. If you’re currently searching for a job, you may want to bring it up in your interview process that workplace flexibility would be desirable to you.

Practice mindfulness

Try practising ten minutes of mindfulness every day by clearing your mind and tuning in to all of your senses. Meditation, breathing exercises, music, yoga, an audiobook or even a quiet bath can help rest your mind and relieve anxiety and stress.

Focus on the things you’re excited to do

Think about what you have missed the most in the past year. Is it family and friends? Live music? Going to the store instead of having things delivered? Creating a post-pandemic bucket list is a great way to shift your thinking from what you’re anxious about to the positive experiences that could be waiting for you. Your bucket list doesn’t have to be extravagant or adventurous; it can be as simple as booking a hair appointment, trying on clothes before you buy them, or having a meal at your favourite cafe. 

Be kind to yourself

Remember that fear and anxiety are natural emotional responses as we approach the end of lockdown. After so long in quarantine, it’s normal to feel some anxiety about restrictions easing. This is a very unusual time, filled with uncertainty and it’s ok to be feeling anxious. Understand that your feelings are natural, normal, and shared by many.

Just as it took time for you to adapt to a new way of living during lockdown, it may take some time to adapt to life-changing again.