Mental Health

Post-lockdown anxiety: “Am I the only one feeling overwhelmed by the idea of going ‘back to normal’?”

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Lauren Geall
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A woman scrolling through the news nervous about lockdown restrictions easing and life going back to normal

After so long spent staying at home and living under lockdown restrictions, the idea of going ‘back to normal’ feels overwhelming. 

Boris Johnson has announced his roadmap to ease England out of lockdown. After months of uncertainty and ongoing restrictions, the new plan spells out how and when things will begin to open up again – with the first step set to be the reopening of schools on 8 March.

Although we’re definitely not out of the woods yet, the falling infection rate and successful vaccine rollout gives me reason to believe that this lockdown may be our last, as Johnson has said he hopes it will be. Although I’m not expecting any big, sudden changes to come anytime soon, it does feel like this could be the first step back towards ‘normality’.

And while that feels like it should be the good news we’ve all been waiting for, I can’t help but dread what comes next.

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You see, while I know lockdown isn’t a good thing – especially in terms of the impact it’s had on mine and many others’ mental health – the idea of straying from the weird ‘new normal’ I’ve created over the last year also seems incredibly overwhelming.

For almost 12 months, staying home has been the norm. Sure, I’ve left the house for walks and seeing a handful of close friends, but for the most part, my pandemic life has been vastly different from the bustling life I used to live in ‘the time before’.

The idea of getting back to that (going into the office, seeing friends in crowded bars and commuting on the tube) feels nearly impossible, not only because it sounds bloody exhausting, but because currently, even the idea of going for a walk with a friend is enough to leave me feeling anxious.

It feels weird to admit that something as simple as seeing a mate has become such a hurdle for me, but as someone who has always suffered with anxiety, I guess it’s hardly surprising after so long spent living under restrictions. In a weird way, lockdown has become a kind of comfort zone – at a time when so much has been going on, it’s been almost comforting, if not less emotionally taxing, to relinquish some control over my life.

My mental health has been on a rollercoaster of ups and downs this past year, but at the very least lockdown has become familiar. And right now, the prospect of breaking away from that familiarity and confronting the mental challenges that will inevitably come with getting back to ‘normal’ feels really scary.

When I shared how I’ve been feeling, I was relieved to know I’m not the only one who is scared of the challenges that might come with getting back to ‘normal’ life. I spoke to Katy, who shares my anxiety about being around people again. She says she’s worried about the pressure to get back to her ‘usual self’ after so long simply trying to survive.

A woman looking out her window during lockdown
Dealing with lockdown hasn't been easy, but going 'back to normal' won't be, either.

On top of sharing my anxiety about being surrounded by people again, Stylist’s digital commissioning editor Katy Harrington says she’s worried about the pressure to get back to her ‘usual self’ after so long simply trying to survive.

“I know my anxiety is so irrational,” she tells me, “but I just feel so worried that while everyone else has been practising self-care and doing face masks and exercising (and will therefore emerge from lockdown looking incredible and glorious), I’ve had a hard time even brushing my hair, felt very lethargic, and become addicted to Deliveroo!

“It’s double whammy anxiety – not only am I nervous about seeing people again but also about the pressure to go out and be effervescent and witty with mates in beer gardens and look immaculate at the same time. It just feels very daunting.” 

I also spoke to Kayleigh, who says imagining how much emotional and physical energy it will take to get back to ‘normal’ is clouding her relief at lockdown ending.

“While I hate the fact that I can’t see my family and friends in lockdown, I have to admit that the thought of everything suddenly clicking back to normal is making me more than a little nervous,” she explains. “I have never been very good in crowds, often suffered panic attacks on the busy London commute and, because I’ve got a nasty habit of people-pleasing and saying yes to every invite thrown my way, would often end my weeks feeling exhausted and thoroughly burnt out.”

She adds: “I don’t know how to switch back to my old life – not without a pretty hefty adjustment period, anyway.” 

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Although I was afraid to place a downer on the good news of restrictions lifting, I’m relieved to know I’m not the only one whose feelings towards tonight’s announcement are mixed.

If anything I think it shows that, while it’s OK to be happy for those people who have struggled with lockdown and want to get back to normal and, at the same time, it’s also OK to acknowledge that this next chapter won’t be plain sailing for us all.

I know it’s a cliché, but we have to remember that this is an experience that no one has ever faced before – and talking about how we’re feeling is a great way to remind each other that we’re all in this together, no matter how isolated our emotions might make us feel. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.

If you are struggling with your mental health, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

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