“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”

Fiona Nicolson

Coronavirus: as the lockdown eases anxiety can increase

Posted on 8 July 2020

In this long and strange tale of the Coronavirus, things are starting to ease up just a little bit. We are entering a new phase. The weather is getting better and there is a hint of summer in the air. Children are going back to school and offices are beginning to open up again. You might think that in a time like this, therapists would be having a much quieter time. Shouldn’t this relatively good news be bringing happiness and a sense of that things are improving at last? Yet this is not my experience, I can assure you that I am not sitting in my hypnotherapy for anxiety clinic in Henley on Thames twiddling my thumbs.

The truth is very different. At the moment I am busier than usual and with one particular issue. People are starting to flood through my doors wanting help with symptoms of anxiety, and these include both new clients and some who are returning after many years of being OK. The whole experience of the lockdown has triggered renewed anxiety and many people are seeking my help.

Everyone experiences anxiety in their own unique way. I do, however note one frequent emotion amongst all the different experiences and feelings. People are frustrated with themselves, they do not think they should feel miserable or worried and this is making them even more miserable. They think they should feel happier and more relaxed as we emerge from one of the strangest and most difficult situations most of us will have seen in our lifetimes.

But actually, I am not surprised there is a lot of anxiety about. I want to explain what I suspect is going on, so if you are suffering from anxiety at least you will not be confused or feel it is only you. If you understand why you feel like this then it is easier to stop beating yourself up and look for a solution instead.

There are three key issues for many of the clients I am seeing. These are difficulty in adjusting to change, feeling guilty and regretting missed opportunities. Usually, all three are all related.

To start with change. Going into lockdown was a massive change for us all. For some of us it was scary and hateful, whereas others may have found some solace and peace in being at home for so long. We have all had to adapt and we have been in lockdown long enough now for us to feel that the situation has become normalised to some extent. But just as we were settling into that pattern, it is all change again. Things are not only changing but there is a high level of confusion and uncertainty as well. We are all asking: are things going to be safe and what is likely to happen? The future of our health and our finances and life in general feels different. We may be worried about how our children will cope with going back to school or be worried about travelling on busy public transport again. We may feel that our current routine is going to be disrupted as we do not yet know how to live in the new normal of less lockdown. This is stressful, but it does not need to cause anxiety if you know how to manage it.

This is what I would advise. Take time to think about what you want to do and then check how realistic these desires are. Speak about these things to your family and friends and anyone else likely to be affected by your choices. If you are not sure what you want to do and where you want to be, do not rush things. Try some thought exercises, where you take quiet time and imagine what you might do. Try out different options in your imagination and see which feel right to you. Trust your instincts. What feels right for you is likely to be right for you.

For many people, moving on and adapting to change will involve dealing with feelings of guilt. A lot of clients report that they feel guilty because they have survived and are actually doing OK and others have not. Guilt can be a very destructive emotion and if you are feeling guilty because you are happy that is even worse. Leading psychiatrists, such as Dr Renee Binder of the University of California are also concerned about this. She has noticed that during the Coronavirus pandemic, some people are feeling guilty when good things happen to them because others are struggling.

This is something we all need to watch. It is very important for our general mental health in these difficult times that we enjoy what we can and celebrate good news.
You may be familiar with the term ‘survivor guilt’ the unpleasant feelings we get when we seem to be the last person standing. We may ask: ‘what did I do to be okay when so many around me are not?’ Many health workers have said they are suffering from survivor guilt as they mourn both colleagues and patients who have not survived the virus. Survivor guilt is not only linked to death and we can feel survivor guilt if we have kept our job while our best friend has been made redundant, for example. Or we may feel it if we know people who live in a country or a city which is suffering more than we are.

This is just one form of the guilt which seems to be sweeping around the world in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Other forms are related to the changes in our everyday lives and the shift in our expectations. These include the feeling that we are not doing enough to help others in the community, or the feeling that we are letting down our children, partner or parents. We may feel our work is being neglected or feel guilty when we know a friend is having a tough time and we can do little to help. As we know Coronavirus is a very infectious disease and this is causing yet another form of guilt. Many people, especially if they know someone who has caught the virus, begin to ask if it is their fault, and feel guilty that they may have passed on the virus. This is common amongst health workers who feel guilty that, while helping their patients, they may be putting their families at risk.

If you have been experiencing guilt such as this you may have been keeping it under control or pushing it to the back of your mind up until now. Now we are in a time when we can look back and reflect. It is a time of actually trying to understand and process what has happened. At this time your guilt may feel worse.

That takes us on to regret. We will all be reflecting on how we have done at this time. Some of us will feel pride in what we did and how we coped, some will feel regret for plans cancelled and opportunities missed, many of us will have a mixture of emotions.

It takes time to process such a momentous set of events. Time for reflection is very important here. If this reflection is producing very painful emotions for you it may be time to seek some professional help. Cognitive Hypnotherapy for Anxiety can help you at this time. If your guilty feelings are intruding into your everyday life or if you have an overwhelming feeling of regret then do book a session with someone like myself.

You may not be at that stage, but just feel a bit confused. If everything feels a muddle then allow yourself time and do not be too hard on yourself.
In such an unprecedented situation none of us is perfect. We have all learned as we have gone along and made some mistakes. Adopt a creative mindset and use your mistakes to illuminate and teach yourself. Do not tell yourself off, it rarely does any good at all. Guard your self-esteem and tell yourself you deserve to be okay and you do not mind that you are not perfect. Good enough is good enough.

It is likely that we have a long way to go to finally emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic. Conserve your energy and recognise that, like the rest of the world, you know a lot more than you did a few months ago. Treasure that learning and be prepared to use it. We are all still heading into unknown times and we will need our mental strength to navigate what is around the corner.

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