With restrictions being relaxed and experts speculating that we’re heading towards the endgame of the pandemic, there are lots of reasons to feel optimistic that life may soon return to ‘normal’.
While a world without face masks, Covid tests and social distancing is appealing in many ways, it’s perfectly natural to feel nervous and anxious about this next phase and the looming changes it could bring too. If you are feeling this way, you’re not alone.
“We have been on high alert because of our health, and now being out and about again might not feel safe for us or our loved ones,” says BACP counsellor Lara Waycot. “As socialising picks up again, we could also have social anxiety. We may feel as if we’re under a microscope and be over-analysing our part within an interaction, with fear of how we are coming across or look to others.”
Here, experts offer their advice for coping with the personal and social challenges as restrictions are eased…
Don’t feel guilty
“It’s definitely normal to feel anxious,” says psychologist and wellbeing consultant Lee Chambers. “And in some ways, accepting that it’s going to feel uncomfortable actually helps” – rather than trying to bury those feelings. “We know restrictions are easing, but at the same time it’s all a little bit new,” Chambers adds.
If you’re feeling like the odd one out amongst your peers or colleagues because you’re not jumping for joy, Waycot says: “Speak to those around you – you may be surprised you’re not the only one feeling this way.”
Go at your own pace
While some people are raring to get back to the office or fill up their diary with social events, others aren’t so keen – and that’s okay too. “Find the balance between taking it at your pace, and some gentle exposure out of the comfort zone,” says Waycot.
You might want to keep wearing a face mask in some situations even if it’s not a legal requirement, for example. And if you’re not comfortable accepting an invitation from a friend or family member, calmly explain why.
“Be honest about your position,” says Chambers. “That then helps the other person know that you’re not judging them, but actually it’s a choice that’s coming from you internally. You’re not telling them that they’re wrong to be feeling more excited about getting back to normal.”
Beware of peer pressure
If, after explaining your reasons, you’re still feeling pressured, Chambers says a “kind but strong ‘no'” is the best response, and talking about your feelings can help others to empathise.
“People are less likely to challenge what you feel, they’re much more likely to challenge what you think,” Chambers continues. “If you say you feel something, it really hits the other person’s emotions.”
Stay in the present
“Anxiety is often a worry of the future, the ‘what ifs’. To counteract this, we can practice mindfulness to be in the present,” says Waycot. “Really hone in on the conversations you’re having, the people you’re speaking to, the weather and the environment.”
If you’re struggling to stay in the present moment, it could help to seek help from a professional, she adds: “These anxieties are coming up a lot with clients, and counsellors can offer a judgment-free space for you to work through these feelings.”
Remember how far you’ve come
You may feel like you are not ready to go back to work, may I remind you that you have survived a pandemic and you are more resilient than you ever imagine.
— Che Marville (@CheMarvilleReal) August 18, 2021
In some ways, transitioning back to pre-pandemic life is the reverse of what we had to do when lockdown first began back in early-2020.
“It’s really beneficial if people reflect on all they’ve achieved over what has been almost two years of constant transition and constant uncertainty,” says Chambers, who suggests taking a moment to “realise how well they’ve adapted and how flexible they’ve been. That gives people more confidence that they can navigate the transition, and navigate it in a way that’s healthy and works for them.”