Mental Health

Coronavirus anxiety: “Returning to London for the first time in 7 months was more stressful than I ever expected it to be”

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Lauren Geall
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After moving away from London during the coronavirus pandemic, Stylist’s Lauren Geall expected her return to the capital to bring a welcome sense of normality. Instead, it was shrouded by the stress and anxiety of life under Covid-19.

For most of my life, I’ve wanted to live in London. Growing up in the countryside of West Sussex, I’d always been attracted to the idea of living in a big city – of being able to disappear into crowds of people and be able to travel anywhere at any time.

Last year, I finally made that dream come true. After years of hard work, a bit of self-doubt and a handful of ‘what am I doing?’ moments, I found myself living and working in London for the first time. I didn’t have a place of my own just yet – I was able to rent a room from a family member – but nevertheless, it felt like a pretty big milestone in my life.

But then the coronavirus pandemic hit. As the number of cases in the capital rose and working from home become a long-term arrangement, I made the decision to move back in with my parents until I was needed back in the office. And without any end to the pandemic in sight, I haven’t been back.

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That was, until last week. After months of putting it off, I took the plunge and returned to London to visit my boyfriend at his house share (throughout the pandemic, he’s been coming down to visit me at home when allowed). 

It just so happened to be the day before tier two restrictions hit London (great timing on my part), but I was still excited to enjoy time in the city I briefly got to call home and experience some of the freedom I’d been missing over the last seven months.

Alas, dear reader, things didn’t go quite as expected.

In some respects, I had a great time – I got to enjoy many of the things I loved about London when I was working there (namely, all the food) and it was nice to feel like a part of something bigger than me after so long spent at home. But the sense of normality I had expected to feel was overwhelmed by the amount of stress and anxiety I felt when it came to keeping myself safe. 

On top of following all the Covid-19 rules – filling in track and trace forms, wearing my mask and keeping my distance – I was constantly monitoring my behaviour, making sure I didn’t rub my eyes or touch something without sanitising afterwards. Instead of walking down the streets and taking in the sights and sounds of London, I was constantly on edge, ducking and diving to keep my distance from the people around me.

Streets in the West End of London on 18 October
“The sense of normality I had expected to feel by returning to London was overwhelmed by the amount of stress and anxiety I felt when it came to keeping myself safe.”

Some of the freedom I felt while living in London was of course still there – having a takeaway arrive within 10 minutes of ordering never gets old – but for the most part, the need to constantly think about what I was doing actually made the city feel quite restrictive opposed to the ease of life outside.

If you’ve lived in London (or any other major city) throughout the pandemic, you’re probably used to the kind of reality I’ve described above, and I’m sure that I, too, would become used to things after a while. 

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For now, however, the stress and anxiety of being around people again has been a wake-up call to the impact this pandemic has had – and continues to have – on our mental and emotional health.

As someone who has always felt at home in a city, the sense of discomfort and awkwardness I felt during this trip was a powerful reminder of how exhausting and stressful ‘normality’ can be under Covid-19. Now more than ever, it’s important to give ourselves space to come to terms with the changing reality we’re facing – and know that it’s OK to take things at our own pace.

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