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

Fiona Nicolson

Why the end of Coronavirus lockdown is causing anxiety and depression

Posted on 4th September 2020

Many of my clients are finding the end of lockdown hard.

I have noticed there is an ambivalence in some of my clients at the moment. They may not have loved the lockdown but they feel a certain nostalgia for those days. This may sound very strange but I think there is an explanation for it. When we were in full lockdown everything was simple. There was one rule, don’t go out unless you have to, and everyone was expected to follow it. It was simple and it felt as if we were all in the same place to some extent.

Now things seem different. Rules differ from country to country and even within one country because of the rise of local lockdowns. For many people this uncertainty can feel very uncomfortable and can actually feel worse than when full lockdown was in place.

Of course, for nearly all of us there are some benefits now things have eased up such as being able to go out, to see friends and family and even to get back to work is often welcome.

But, especially for people who suffer from high anxiety levels, things can feel tough. Change is often uncomfortable and we have all been through a lot of change recently, and the end of lockdown brings yet more change.

We cannot resume our old lives

I often encourage people to look at the end of the lockdown as a new start rather than as a resumption of their old life. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, life is not going back to the old normal, there are still restrictions and uncertainties and to be honest, we need to face up to these. Secondly, if we talk just about resumption, we miss the chance to make changes which could benefit us. It is a good mental habit to treat everything as a learning opportunity and a window to a better time and this is no different.

At the same time, we should face up to loss. For some the loss of our old life is a trigger for feelings of grief and unhappiness. Again, the first thing to do is to acknowledge these feelings. Until we do it is impossible to move on.

If we admit that it is more complicated than just going back to the way things were before Coronavirus then we put ourselves in a learning frame of mind, which is a particularly good and healthy place to be at the moment. Coming out of lockdown will mean setting up new habits and possible ways of being. Some of our old beliefs may prove to be an obstruction to these new ways and we may have to find different approached to understanding our own personal world.

Use the chance for positive change after coronavirus

Rather than going back to the old, we should talk in terms of reconnecting with the bits of our old life which are still useful and available to us. This way we can find new ways to deal with and appreciate the difference in the world now.

Therapists such as myself often stress the importance of healthy routines to strengthen our mental health and our physical wellbeing as well. This is often good advice but at the moment I try to refine it further. It is worth examining if your old routines still work for you. This can be a positive and energising process. It can be a time to drop the things which didn’t work for you in the old world and build on those things which did work.

And it is worth welcoming this examination process into our lives as a permanent thing. We know more change is likely before we are finally past Coronavirus so a regular look at how we are guarding our mental well-being is well worth it.

In doing so, remember that there is no template, no absolutely right way. Do not be too harsh on yourself. Everyone is facing the uncertainty and we are all having different personal challenges. Do not be afraid to try new things, you do not have to keep doing them if they are not making you happy. If you make a mistake you will have learned what does not work for you. By a process of elimination, you are nearer to getting to what does.

Face up to the fact of fear in the time of Coronavirus

Do not underestimate how tough this can be. Not only are we dealing with change, but for many of us fear is never far away. We may fear getting the virus ourselves or fear for vulnerable friends and family members. We may fear for our jobs and for the futures of our young people.

This all costs a lot of emotional energy. Many people are emotionally and mentally exhausted. In such a situation resting and recharging our emotional batteries is very important.

The unfamiliarity of the new ways can cause stress

Even if we are not fearful, the unfamiliarity of the new world as the lockdown eases can lead to heightened anxiety. We are hardwired to find the new stressful, even if it is welcome to us. Here is an example, you may be looking forward to getting back to the office. But it may still feel hard to get on public transport, or to walk into your building or to go to face to face meetings. Partly, this is just a matter of recreating habits and things will feel different in a short time. But it may be that the time away has revealed that some parts of your working life are not healthy for you. It is important that you acknowledge this. If possible, work out ways you can change things. But even if you cannot change these things now, acknowledging them can be a great help. If you know what is hurting you, you can work out strategies to isolate and minimise those parts of your life, to lessen them on your own emotional map. But to do this you need to know what they are in the first place.

Don’t fret over what you cannot control

For some people, dealing with others has become a challenge. I have noticed some clients feel frustrated because they see other people taking risks and not following the rules.

Develop a clear sense of what you can control and what you cannot. You may not be able to control the behaviour of those around you, but you can control how you feel about it. Cultivate your own mental boundaries, become aware of where they are an respect them. You will feel more comfortable and find it easier to ignore things which fall outside of these boundaries. Concentrate on what is in your control.

Sometimes just the sheer numbers of people and the increased pace of life, the noise of the city, can feel difficult. If that is difficult for you then see how you can take things at your own pace. Firstly, recognise what you have learned. Have you cultivated a new appreciation of quiet, of nature, of being at home? If so, celebrate this and work out ways you can continue to enjoy these things as often as possible. When you do have to go into a noisier world, take it one step at a time. Challenge yourself to do a little more, but in a space you feel comfortable with, each day. Over time you will find you can create new habits which work for you.

Control what you can and push what you cannot from the centre of your emotional map. Do not expect to succeed immediately in all the challenges and changes which you are facing. Work out what is most important to you and concentrate on that. Work at a pace which feels comfortable to you. This may involve negotiation with those around you. This is positive as you find your place in the new world. Be gentle empathetic and assertive. Listen to others, but be clear in your own mind what you need and communicate it clearly.

As you do these things you will build up new habits and find that the new becomes the familiar. Many people are finding it useful to keep a diary as they go through this journey. It enables you to discover your own patterns and you can also see how far you have come. It is always further than you think.

If you do this you will learn an enormous amount about yourself and this will set you up very well for further change.

Concentrate on the now

It is helpful to concentrate on the present. Plan for this week, next week and celebrate your successes in these short time frames. Keep well informed, this will give your mind good signals that you have control. But do not obsess with the news, constantly looking at uncertainty is almost a guaranteed way of increasing anxiety. Keep your thoughts on your immediate tasks, and focus on nature, on hobbies, on culture. These will help you cultivate positive patterns of thinking and this will lessen anxiety.
Create a core of certainty in your life, that may be your work, your family or a personal passion. Focus on that and make it central to your emotional life. This will make you less anxious and happier.

Remember that generally people with friends and an active social life are happier. For many of us the end of lockdown is a chance to cultivate those relationships again. Be clear with people what your rules are, on mask wearing for example, and what risk you accept. See people in the same range as you and this will make these new social situations less awkward. Make sure that you stay within the place where you feel physically safe. This may change over time but take it at your own pace.

Build resilience in a fast-changing world

There will be a lot of change and challenge over the next months. If you are finding it hard to adapt please contact a cognitive practitioner such as myself. We can help you reset your mental map in these changing times to something which will help guide and support you through the world. It can be done and often it is not too difficult. It will help you navigate the unknown future.

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