Ever since the roadmap out of lockdown was announced here in the UK, there’s been a noticeable shift in attitude. Group chats erupting with reunion plans, complete with outfit planning and outdoor dining testimonials. Work sending out phased-return-to-office emails. Your favourite local shops shouting ‘we’re BACK!’ from the rooftops. The promise of normality has undoubtedly lifted spirits, it’s almost like everyone has forgotten the reason why we were in lockdown to begin with, right?
If you’re slowly panicking at the thought of being surrounded by people again and don’t feel ready for the easing of restrictions, you’re not alone. There is nothing *normal* about what we’ve been through and this next step is no exception. Everyone has had their own personal journey over the last year, so it’s OK if you’re not as prepped and keen as your social butterfly BFF who’s ready to ‘make up for lost time’. Here’s how to help navigate the next few months and push back if you feel the changes start taking a toll on your mental health.
Be Open With Friends, Family and Colleagues
First of all, it’s important to be honest with yourself and others about how you’re feeling. Whether you’re conflicted, stressed or anxious about socialising or heading back into the workplace, it’s better to speak openly about the thoughts running through your mind than keeping them to yourself.
At work, schedule a catch-up with your line manager and describe what’s playing on your mind and your ideal scenario eg. continuing remote working part-time or commuting during off-peak hours. Most companies have adapted to adjust to lockdown restrictions, so there’s no reason to assume they won’t be able to adapt as the restrictions start lifting.
At home, open up the conversation with friends and family. You may be surprised that others feel the same way as you do and at the very least, you’re being honest about your boundaries and managing expectations. That way they’re more likely to be understanding and mindful if you decline meeting up.
Go At Your Own Pace and Start Small
The pace slowed right down during lockdown, and for most of us, we’re now accustomed to that. Going from a walk in the park with one friend to a garden gathering with six people may feel like a giant leap. So, it’s important to go at your own pace and start small instead of heading straight to a beer garden/the shops or picnic, just because now you technically can.
By going at your own pace, you’re less likely to focus on what you think you should be doing and instead of tuning into your intuition. Approach the changes little by little if the thought of going from 0 to 100 scares you.
Quit the Comparison Game
Remember when you breezed through life without constantly being told what everyone else was up to? Yes, us neither. Social media has created a comparison culture that can sometimes creep up on us so slyly that we don’t realise it’s a problem until we are 14 months deep on a friend-of-an-ex's-friends profile.
If seeing your friends posting about their newly-found freedom sparks negative feelings - from FOMO to anxiety - then limit your exposure to it. Mute the WhatsApp groups that are constantly pinging and temporarily delete or move the apps on your phone, so they’re harder to find when your thumbs are on autopilot. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, so don’t allow yourself to fall into dangerous comparison territory as it could negatively impact your wellbeing.
Talk to a Professional
If you’re concerned about the state of your mental health, then we urge you to seek further support. Your inner network of friends and family may be understanding and say what you need in the moment, but they are not trained experts and can never fully replace the guidance of a counsellor, psychologist or medical professional.
Book an appointment with your GP to discuss how you’re feeling or access our mental health services here.
Plan Ahead Before Going Out & About
Heading to the shops or an outdoor dining venue could trigger feelings of uncertainty because you’re exposing yourself to situations that are outside of your control.
But, there are some aspects you can control. Things like shopping during off-peak hours, using contactless payment methods, keeping your distance in queues and using hand sanitiser before and after entering any new location (or keep a handy travel-sized sanitiser in your pocket for on-the-go top-ups). Most places have incorporated government-advised regulations, complete with track and trace functionality, so rest assured that social distancing measures are being followed and adhered to at all indoor and outdoor venues.
Don’t Say Yes to Every Single Event
Last year the social calendar was pretty much wiped clean. Gone were the bottomless birthday brunches, hen party weekends and weddings. While some events remained indefinitely cancelled, the milestone life events seemed to have all rolled over, and it may feel like they’re starting to stack up.
Don’t feel like you have to RSVP ‘yes’ to them all. Even if your exasperated host has rebooked a venue three times and waited a year for this big event, if you’re not ready to commit to a larger gathering or an event in the future, then be honest and decline the invitation. Never accept out of fear of letting someone down or pressure if you know you’re experiencing discomfort at the mere thought of attending.
When you do accept invites, try and keep a healthy balance of socialising and downtime in your calendar. It can be overwhelming to see the weekend after weekend booked up with things to do, so be mindful when signing yourself up.
Check in With Yourself
Self-care isn’t a buzzword, it should be something that you incorporate into your everyday life. As you start making changes to your routine, whether that’s going back to the office for the first time or meeting up with friends, allow time to process how you’re feeling. Practising mindfulness and self-care, from meditation to journaling, is a great way to reflect and work through any anxious thoughts.