After so long spent staying at home and living under lockdown restrictions, getting back into the swing of things as restrictions ease feels overwhelming.
With the second stage in the government’s roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions now well underway, and the next set of restrictions set to ease on 12 April, there’s a sense that things might finally be moving in the right direction.
Although we’re definitely not out of the woods just yet, the continued success of the vaccination scheme and falling death toll gives me reason to believe that this lockdown may be our last, as Boris Johnson has said he hopes it will be. The end of the pandemic may still be some way away yet, but it does feel like the initial easing of restrictions we’ve seen so far could be the first, tentative steps towards ‘normality’.
I know all of this is good news. However, while I do feel hopeful and optimistic about what’s to come, I also can’t help but feel a little scared about the process of getting back into ‘normal’ life.
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 picnic with a few friends is enough to leave me feeling uneasy.
It feels weird to admit that something as simple as seeing some mates 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.
“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.”
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 remain 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, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.