The first thing to say is, you are not alone. Although many people cannot wait to get back to some kind of ‘normality,’ there are some who also fear the ‘new norm.’
A survey by Anxiety UK revealed 37% are looking forward to returning to ‘normal life’ while 36% would be happy to stay at home, while 27% are not concerned either way. (Anxiety UK, March 2021)
Understandably, after lockdown 3.0 was announced in January by the UK government, we all had to adjust to a lockdown routine (again!). And now with the prospect of having to re-engage with the outside world, it is anxiety-inducing for many.
It is important to state that we all need to be supportive and compassionate. We have experienced an unprecedented, long, and uncertain emotional roller-coaster and we need to be patient with those who are struggling to adapt.
If we acknowledge the anxiety some experience and how to support them, we are more likely to avoid the negative impact on those individuals and society as a whole.
So what is creating our anxiety?
Post-lockdown anxiety can range from social anxiety, virus or illness fear, withdrawal, fear of death fear of the unknown or the uncertainty of the future.
For individuals re-joining their work community, it can be concerning due to the elevated levels of social contact.
For example, those working in retail or hospitality roles (pubs, hotels, restaurants etc.), may worry about their safety but also the safety of their families.
Retail workers are 5 times more likely to test positive than someone working in an office. So understandably the concern is valid.
Also, many fear the unknown of returning to work with new rules, protocols and means of engagement. As humans, we cling to social cues and protocols, and today’s new landscape is not what we are familiar with.
What are the signs to look for?
During this last year, many of us have gone through a variety of emotions that we may have not recognised the signs of anxiety. The restrictions caused a sense of loss of freedom, fear of illness or death, this resulted in worrying and intruding thoughts about the future and worst-case scenario forecasting.
Our thoughts induce positive or negative emotions, so the more we worry or catastrophize about an impending event or outcome, the more we increase our anxious state.
The impact of worrying thoughts can lead to sleepless nights or interrupted sleep, which in turn can lead to low mood, fatigue, poor concentration, and fear.
What can an individual do to reduce post-lockdown anxiety?
Each person is different, therefore how we respond to engaging in society may not be the same. But there are steps an individual can take to ease them back into society.
Take small steps
As with anything that needs a behaviour or routine change, take your time to adjust. This could mean planning a meet up with one person in a safe environment such as a friend or family member in a garden. Although we have been given the green light to meet 6 people or up to two households, avoid going straight to meeting large groups or potentially meeting somewhere groups of people convene. This may be an intimidating experience and may trigger your anxiety. So, ease into it and take each day as it comes.
As mentioned previously, our biggest hurdle is what we say in our heads, our inner voice. If you consistently tell yourself things are going to be bad, and you have no control over the outcome, then you will start to believe this.
Counterproductive as it may sound, the reasons we engage with negative self-talk is often to help us feel in control and avoid the feeling of uncertainty. However, if left unchecked, unhelpful thoughts can lead to heightened anxiety and fear.
So when you notice you are talking negatively, consider a balanced perspective, ask yourself what the alternative could be.
Learn how to manage and reduce the physical symptoms
To manage your physical anxiety, it helps to have a toolkit of resources to tap into, so you know how to notice the signs of your anxiety and how to reduce it.
Pretending that you will not feel different or have a reaction is not helpful. So take the time to practice and learn a few exercises to alleviate your anxiety.
Breathing – There are many simple and effective breathing exercises. The aim is to help you take control and draw attention to a rhythmic pace, slow and improve your intake of breath.
Write down your thoughts - Taking time to catch and notice your thoughts provides you with the opportunity to dispute and question them. When our thoughts swirl in our head, they can often seem worse than they are. Writing them down, however, lets us reflect and face them, and most of the time, they seem less valid and practical when out in the open.
Distract yourself - When we find, we cannot stop worrying, it often best to do something to distract ourselves. This could be playing some music, speaking to a family or friend, or doing a workout. Whatever helps you stop the inner chatter and gives you time off from your thoughts is encouraged.
What can organisations and managers do to help?
It is important that we understand why some of us might be anxious about the return to broader society, and for us all to be patient with each other’s journeys. This includes companies and bosses.
Image courtesy vichie81/bigstockphoto.com
Ask your employees what they want?
This can be team by team or at an organisational level, however, what is key is listening to your staff on how they want to enter back into work.
Give them time to adjust
Expecting to have one size fit all can be a recipe for disaster. Depending on your staff’s feedback on their needs and support for entry to work, consider several routes of entry and timelines.
Organisations need to consider taster days for staff, bring them back in small teams and encourage them to provide feedback on what works and suits their teams or individual needs and what can be adapted.
Build Trust and communicate frequently
Updating staff on what the company plans are will help many feel connected and part of a community. If the organisation has failed to engage staff while they have been furloughed, this may create distrust and fear. This can be repaired by reaching out to staff and rebuilding the community for them to return to.
Although post-lockdown anxiety is a personal experience, it is likely to impact us all, with the fallout being people withdrawing from society or developing further mental health concerns, which will, in turn, impact businesses, and society. This needs to be a team effort, we need to show empathy and compassion to those who feel anxious about what comes next.
If you or someone you know is experiencing post-lockdown anxiety, get in touch at Kemi@wellnesslink.co.uk.
1. Anxiety UK (Blog Post), March 2001 – 900 respondents
2. Lally, Van Jaarsveld, Potts and Wardle. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 40, 998–1009 (2010)
Kemi Fadero is a Wellbeing Consultant, Counsellor and Coach based in Cambridge, UK. Kemi works with individuals seeking to achieve balance in their lives. Her interest in wellbeing and coaching came after taking steps herself to improve her wellbeing and reduce the strain of juggling life as a corporate executive and running a household filled with three lively children. She noticed the increased demands of modern life on herself, her family, colleagues and friends. She decided to seek balance for herself and in the process found a love for helping others through Counselling, and her passion for holistic wellbeing. From her Cambridge, UK studio, she offers virtual and in-person coaching and counselling services, helping individuals seeking to overcome emotional distress and wellbeing challenges.