Being ‘busy’ felt like the millennial trope of last year. Especially if you live in the heart of a city, you’ll have no doubt discussed with friends the pressures of having a side hustle, creative outlet, impressive career, getting on the dating hamster wheel and attending dinners, nights out, hen dos, weddings, baby showers and the rest.
This is me all over. I’d lived in London for 10 years before moving to Brighton in January and for most of that time I’ve had plans earmarked for every night, usually three weeks in advance. For the last decade I’ve been the kind of person to stay in touch with friends from previous jobs, that friendly waitress at my favourite restaurant, old housemates, school friends and even friends’ friends.
I hate turning down plans, so I often found myself struggling to save a night in so I could just, you know, wash some pants! As well as holding my social life very close, I would also say “yes” to work events, going home to visit family, putting effort into relationships and trying to take advantage of all the cultural wonders of London. It was exhausting.
If you recognise yourself in any of this then lockdown will have come as quite the shock to you, too. Personally, I went through different phases of emotion. There was the initial novelty, the relief at taking a break, the missing friends, family and bright lights of the city and finally I’m now at a place where I’ve surveyed the positives of both ways of life – and I don’t think the fast lane is entirely for me.
I’m not alone in enjoying, and wanting to hold on to, the calm I’ve adjusted to in my lockdown existence. In fact, I’ve noticed this trend in friends who I would also consider to be on the burnout side of busy. In our texts and voice notes many of them have relayed the same sentiments, that they’re “terrified” of going back to normal life.
There’s a shared anxiety around lockdown lifting and how this will send us hurtling back to an overwhelming schedule and feeling burned out. But why, when we have the power to say ‘no’?
First, says psychologist Dr Martina Paglia, we need to recognise that as humans we have an innate fear of change and to register that we have been through something traumatic, so it’s completely understandable that we would have anxieties about the future.
Speaking to Stylist.co.uk, she says: “Human beings function well in a routine and fear change. Most of us feared the change quarantine would impose on our lives back in March, and now we fear going back to our normal lives. In addition to this, we’re still mourning the loss of our previous lives when going out to bars and restaurants was normal. Now, we may fear getting sick with Covid-19 and being outdoors may not feel as safe as staying indoors.”
She also explains that we need to register the impact of the last four months on our minds and bodies and remember that fear and anxiety are normal responses to what we’ve been through.
“Some of us have gone through many losses, whether that be the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one without being able to say goodbye or attend the funeral. This takes time for our mind and body to embrace and heal,” she says.
“Moreover, people in self-isolation for prolonged periods in tiny flats or sharing a bedroom may be especially vulnerable to developing PTSD during and after the outbreak,” she continues.
For many, the pandemic may have caused lasting impact on their mental and emotional stability, which could contribute to the development of trauma. Dr Paglia says that some of the signs of trauma can include anger, flashbacks, feelings of sadness and anxiety. These traumatic experiences shatter a sense of security and can make a person helpless and vulnerable.
Dr Paglia continues: “We still don’t know the impact of this pandemic on the overall mental health of the population, but it is surely going to be disproportionately huge. Covid-19 will have a long-lasting impact on the mental health of all of us and may be the next generational trauma.”
If you’ve never experienced mental health problems before, you might be struggling to process that the pandemic has had such a profound impact on you, but it makes sense that being trapped inside for months would cause some level of trauma for anyone. It’s important to remember that you’ve been through a very unique experience and to be kind to yourself, put your mental health first and only do what makes you comfortable.
Undoubtedly, though, many of us will still feel an internal pressure to say yes to plans and slip back into our old ways. Leanne Evans, a brilliant life coach and friend of Stylist, says that this is a common theme at the moment that many people are dealing with, but that there are some simple steps you can take.
Speaking to Stylist.co.uk, Evans says: “We often agree to plans due to fear of missing out or letting our friends down. During lockdown, we have had the opportunity to truly put our needs first and allow our body to restore and for our parasympathetic nervous system to be activated.
“While it is great to be able to interact with our loved ones in person again, we should begin this new chapter in a mindful way that allows us to keep our wellbeing front and centre. I would suggest three key things to help you navigate this time.”
“One thing we may be fearful of losing going back into ‘the new normal’ is control. Boundaries are a safe way for us to exercise a degree of control while honouring our actual needs. Introducing structure into your week will allow you the space to call in time for fun and socialising alongside all that you have to do.”
Continue your lockdown pastimes
“Empower yourself and celebrate the new you and the positive activities that you enjoyed doing in lockdown. It is this strong sense of self and your unique boredom-busting ideas that will quieten that voice that tells you that what’s going on outside is better than in. Make an effort to schedule in time in your diary to commit to these activities. Place yourself and your needs as a priority; this is an act of self-love, not a selfish act.”
Recognise your fears and replace them with loving thoughts
“The opposite of fear is love, so try to activate an energy of love when a feeling of fear arises within you in light of an impending commitment. A fear-based response could be desperately making up an excuse to say no to a commitment when a loving based reply would be you communicating from your heart why it is a no, for example, ‘I’m exhausted and could do with a good night’s sleep. However, next week is clear, and I’ll be more energised to connect with you then?’”