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The days are getting brighter, the weather is (gradually) getting warmer, and for many of us across the UK we are slowly but surely regaining our social freedoms as lockdown continues to ease, restrictions continue to lessen, and the pandemic slowly begins to loosen its stifling grip on our lives.
However, for many of us, Covid’s tight reins of regulation and imposed detachment have become the new-normal of daily routine. In order to keep the population safe and face this relentless disease, we were dramatically cut off from so many aspects of ‘normal’ life. From visiting friends and family, to popping out for a quick coffee or a haircut, it became vital for us to stay at home to protect lives. But in protecting lives from Covid, for so many people this deeply affected their mental health and wellbeing; in protecting lives from Covid, mental wellbeing unfortunately paid the price.
This is sadly reflected in recent data collated by the Office for National Statistics, which suggests that around 1 in 5 (21%) adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021, more than double that observed prior to the pandemic. And that is not all. A recent survey conducted by Anxiety UK into the easing of lockdown, found that of those respondents who had admitted to feeling anxious towards lockdown ending, almost half (46%) cited the pressures of socialising generally as their biggest concern. It appears that not only has the pandemic taken its toll on our mental health through all it has restricted us to do and depriving us of even the simplest of pleasures, for so many of us it has also consequently made us feel anxious and uneasy about beginning to revisit and have access to things we would not have thought twice about pre-2020.
Like so many, I was, and still am, extremely excited at the prospect of life starting to get back to normal and more restrictions easing. As soon as booking systems went live and events were announced, I went on a ‘booking-spree’ of making dates for every weekend and ensuring my calendar was jam-packed because I was so adamant that I had to make up for lost time. After two consecutive weekends of going out and socialising, I did not feel how I thought I would. I felt deflated, exhausted, like my social batteries had gone into low-power mode, and afraid of the weekends ahead and upcoming plans I had committed to. I thought surely there must be something wrong with me, because all I had thought of for the past few months was being able to see my friends and go out again. With this anxious outlook, I made a comment in passing to one of my friends about how I was feeling, and to my surprise she almost instantaneously said she felt the same and was relieved someone else had expressed this state of uncertainty. This turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg, as almost everyone I spoke to about how they felt as restrictions continue to ease, expressed this feeling of excitement but also somewhat overwhelming unease.
So, if you are feeling anxious, apprehensive, or just generally overwhelmed by the current situation and road ahead, then you are not alone, and rest assured that many of your peers may be experiencing the exact same concerns even if they do not openly express them. Below are some tips and advice on how you may want to pace yourself as we progress out of lockdown, and to remember to go at your own tempo.
Build up your tolerance: For a substantial amount of time, we have had limited contact with people outside of our home or support bubble, and most of our interactions have been online. Diving back into seeing lots of people again can be overwhelming. As I have said, I know that certainly in my case I was fixated on making up for lost time, but I quickly discovered that through the excitement, I was overdoing it. Thinking that you can go at the pace you did prior to this monumental event is optimistic but probably a bit unrealistic. So, try not to make a whole load of plans all at once. Absolutely organise things to give you dates to look forward to, but pace yourself so that you enjoy the times that you choose to socialise.
Acknowledge that it is okay to say ‘no thank you’: Because we haven’t seen those who we would regularly socialise with for so long, there may be a tendency to feel pressured into socialising because you think it’s expected of you, or it’s the right thing to do. But listen to what your mind and body is telling you. Although you may want to see your friends, you may not feel completely comfortable or safe yet, and that is okay. Be open with people about your feelings around coming out of lockdown, and as long as they are clear on where they stand, then they will understand where you are coming from.
Regulations are in place for your safety: If you are beginning to go out to shops, bars, or other social amenities, remember that there are still regulations in place such as sanitisation stations, social distancing or wearing a mask when not seated, and we are still within a frame of restriction to keep us safe. So, if you are feeling anxious, then remind yourself that it is a legal requirement for these to be enforced, and so many places are doing all that they can to make people feel secure and enjoy themselves safely. With this in mind, also remember to be conscious and respectful of others in following these guidelines, and considerate to the fact that some of us may be feeling more overwhelmed than others.
Try not to overload your body: For so many of us, being able to go out and socialise again ultimately means indulging in the hospitality sector, whether it be going out for lunch or a few drinks at a bar. But it is important to remember that what we put in our bodies does have an effect on how we feel, as physical and mental health go hand-in-hand, for example alcohol is a depressant and also dehydrates the body. As such, try to remember everything in moderation, because while it may seem like a good idea in the moment and it is easy to get carried away, often the next day can be one of regret for taking it a bit too far, leave us feeling a bit worse for wear, and can induce anxiety or ‘hangxiety’.
Make time for yourself: A large proportion of the past few months forced us all to become accustomed to a far more scaled down social life, and spending an increased amount of time in our own company. Yes, socialising is an important part of human connection and interaction, but it is okay to want to pace yourself and ease back into what can be a rather full-on experience. Whether it is having a night in to unwind and relax, or generally just checking-in with yourself and reflecting back on your day/week, try not to neglect your emotions in the whirlwind changes of the coming months.
By Ellie Giardina
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