In the days following the start of the coronavirus lockdown on 23 March, most of us would have done anything to return to normal. We dreamt about pub gardens and visits to Pret on a lunchbreak became our idea of heaven. “We never realised how good we had it,” we’d say as we enjoyed the novelty of Zoom drinks and virtual pub quizzes. “I can’t wait until this is all over”.
Seven weeks later, a lot has changed. Today (13 May) we’re seeing the first signs of “normality” return to our streets, as some people begin to go back to work and restrictions on exercise are lifted. It’ll probably be a while before we get pubs back, but for the first time in ages, there’s an attempt to restore some of our pre-pandemic life.
We should, on the face of it, be elated. Just seven weeks ago we were itching to get back to normal life. But now, instead of an all-encompassing desire to “get on with things,” there’s a hesitation in many people’s steps: our lockdown fantasies have almost been realised, and suddenly it fills us with dread.
“Coming out of lockdown will be a big change for most people, as the unusual circumstances we’ve found ourselves in have become a new normal,” explains Neuro Linguistic Programming coach Rebecca Lockwood. “When these restrictions are lifted it will create a big change in most people’s lives, relationships and routines.”
Lockwood explains that this “return anxiety” we’re all experiencing is actually a completely normal response to change – as humans, we like to know what’s going to happen next and have an established routine, so it’s only natural that we’re finding it hard to revamp our lives again.
“When we find ourselves in our comfort zones most people like to stay there as it’s seen as a safe place to stay,” she adds. “When we start to move out of our comfort zones it causes feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and overwhelm. This is what we all experienced at the beginning of lockdown, and now we will be experiencing the reverse effect when we come out of lockdown.”
Dominique Antiglio, an expert in sophrology (a relaxation technique used to reduce stress and anxiety) at the BeSophro clinic, also explains that the resistance some people feel to return to normal life can leave them feeling isolated in their anxiety.
“We’re experiencing a form of stress associated with the fear of being unable, or not wanting to re-adapt to previously established routines and environments i.e. going back to ‘normal’,” she explains. “The impending change and disruption in which we are forced to adapt to the environment (but where new rules apply and previous conventions no longer seem to work or feel relevant) can exacerbate isolation and loneliness.
“This feeling of ‘not belonging’ or being unable to adapt quickly enough can impact our sense of identity and mental health.”
For Lockwood, coping with return anxiety is about taking things at our own pace and showing ourselves a bit of compassion.
“Check in with yourself and how you’re feeling,” she recommends. “Understand that most of the world will also be feeling the same right now, and it’s OK.”
On top of this, she recommends taking the time to talk to others about how you’re feeling, rather than brushing it under the rug and pretending those emotions don’t exist.
Antiglio agrees that connecting with others (virtually, for the time being) can be a great way to seek support during this challenging time.
“Social interaction (virtually) and support, managing expectations, and self-care are examples of things that can be implemented to help keep the anxiety in check,” she explains.
However you’re feeling at the moment, it’s important to remind yourself that your emotions are completely valid. We are in the middle of a situation none of us have ever dealt with before, and it’s understandable to feel unsure about going back to work or returning to some semblance of ‘normal’.
If you’re worried about returning to work, and want to find out more about what workplaces should be open and what guidelines employers are legally required to follow to keep you safe, you can check out the government’s ‘Covid-19 secure’ working guidelines here.
Coping with anxiety
If you’re dealing with feelings of anxiety and worry during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to understand that this is a completely normal response to the current situation. However, if you’re looking for a way to alleviate some of those feelings, here’s three articles that might help.
- 4 tips for dealing with anxiety, from someone who lives with it
- Everything you need to know about seeking mental health support during the coronavirus pandemic
- Free online therapy and wellbeing resources you can access during the coronavirus outbreak