As things begin to open up, the expectation of springing back to normality is palpable, but what if lockdown life was actually peaceful? And the prospect of returning to “normality” really daunting?
I’m writing this on rather a gloomy, wet day. A day that seems out of sorts for summery, July weather. A day that, for many, might feel like a saving grace as the prospect of typical summer anxieties loom.
The lockdown in the UK is lifting and whilst this is welcomed by many, it is causing somewhat of a dilemma for those who have found relief in social distancing measures. The expectation of springing back to normality is palpable – but what if lockdown life was actually peaceful? And the prospect of returning to “normality” really dauting?
“Some have felt that the restriction of lockdown mimics that of a restrictive eating disorder.”
It feels as though people are divided in their experience of lockdown. Some have found social distancing incredibly anxiety-provoking, with limitations on activities and services a real detriment to their mental health. Some have felt that the restriction of lockdown mimics that of a restrictive eating disorder, where the feeling of being “denied” the pleasures of day-to-day life is akin to the rules and routines of an eating disorder. The pervasive uncertainty and lack of understanding – not to mention genuine health anxiety around contracting Covid-19 – has exacerbated the “out of control” feeling that so many people try to soothe day-to-day in their eating disorder.
Meanwhile, other people have found an element of peace within lockdown. The usual anxieties that “normal life” throws at us has been dramatically reduced, removing triggers from mere everyday experiences. To quote Kendra, our Senior Occupational Therapist, discussing the topic of ‘trauma’: “In life we encounter trauma daily; in our daily stressors or unexpected and disruptive events.”
“Many individuals are struggling with the concept of being seen again – whether that’s mentally or physically – by other people.”
In an odd twist of fate, lockdown has reduced these daily stressors and unexpected, disruptive events by becoming deliberately mundane and predictable. Anxieties around appearance, comparing ourselves to others, attending appointments, showing up to daunting social events and mealtimes – these have all been paused, much to the relief of many people who might have found these scenarios incredibly overwhelming.
Whilst there is a tangible demand (and need) for organisations – particularly treatment centres – to reopen face-to-face services, we know that many individuals are struggling with the concept of being seen again – whether that’s mentally or physically – by other people. Whether you fall into one or both camps, we ask that you go easy on yourself as things continue to relax and life goes, somewhat, back to “normal”.
Here are our 4 things to do as lockdown lifts…
Respond to fear and anxiety with compassion
As Professor Paul Gilbert said: “We start with the reality that is true for all of us, which is that we all just ‘find ourselves here’.”
No one was prepared for the pandemic, and in the same way, no one is prepared for how we may feel and respond as things start to go back to “normal”. However, we can prepare by giving ourselves permission to be compassionate towards our response to challenge.
Mindfulness practitioner, Nick Scaramanga, in a recent Psychologies issue advocates meditation to deal with anxiety: “Anxiety is based in past memories or projected worries of the future, it has nowhere to go when you are in the present.” So, our response can focus on building a tolerance for these uncomfortable (but reasonable) feelings through grounding practices such as gentle yoga and breathing exercises.
“If we notice our breath we are in the present because we can’t breathe in the future or the past.”
Do what feels right for you
It may be that your social circle and family are keen to get together and celebrate the ending of enforced distance. Whilst some may look forward to these events, others may find the prospect of social events (with an emphasis on reconnecting) very overwhelming.
You can say no.
In fact, learning to say no and enforce healthy boundaries that keep you safe can be a big part of the recovery journey. If possible, don’t judge yourself for what other people are doing and what you do or don’t want to do right now.
As Brene Brown said, “What we don’t need in the midst of struggle is shame for being human.” We’ve expended a lot of emotional energy on simply coping with the pandemic, it makes sense that we need to spend some time recouping that energy (one cannot pour from an empty cup!).
Celebrate one step at a time
Take this process day by day. One day you might feel up for seeing someone, the next day you might need to rest and process. That is ok!
It may be that we’ve forgotten what it feels like to be around people and fears about being awkward might be very real. Remember – we’ve ALL been in the same boat. No one feels completely unscathed by lockdown and naming your unease to a trusted friend may help diffuse the tension in your body and mind.
Celebrate the small wins and continue to gently challenge yourself. We don’t know what’s around the corner so deal with uncertainty by keeping focused on the present moment and your recovery goals for the day.
Be curious about changes within
Most people have had time to ponder and reflect on their lives during lockdown. It may be that your perspective on things have shifted and your values may have grown and morphed within this time.
As human beings, we are always changing. And whilst this may be unnerving, recognise the beauty in how we are built to adapt and creatively respond to our unique circumstances. You are STILL you. This is all part of the creative journey that is recovery.
To continue Kendra’s quote above: “In life we encounter trauma daily; in our daily stressors or unexpected and disruptive events. We do not choose the difficulties life presents to us or the changes that happen in our worlds because of them – but healing and recovery is a change we do get to choose. And it is within the process of recovering, that we begin to discover a part of us that we may not have had the opportunity to meet had we not given ourselves the opportunity to move through our pain. Meeting ourselves where we are at and seeing our vulnerability with courage can be a truly moving experience.”