With the news that the UK government is going ahead with it’s complete lifting of restrictions, many people are faced with the question of what they personally will do. For those of us who have regular contact with people unvaccinated (those under 18) or immunosuppressed people the decision might be that you continue to wear masks and socially distance. For those of us working in close proximity with large numbers of the public such as retail and hospitality workers, navigating work life without all of the safety measures of the past year might feel daunting and uncomfortable.
Dr Alexandra Oliver, Medical Director of Bupa Health Clinics has 5 simple tips that she has kindly broken down, for any of us who are feeling anxious about the complete and government sanctioned ‘return to normal’ to use and apply to our lives.
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As the final COVID-19 restrictions ease across the UK, experts are warning people of the mental health implications which may last long after the pandemic.
Whether it’s returning to the office or filling your social calendar, for most this will be an exciting time but for others it may be overwhelming, causing them to feel anxious.
The importance of self-kindness
If you’re feeling anxious, take things slowly and be kind to yourself. It can be overwhelming as restrictions ease and it’s understandable to feel anxious. Take things at a pace you’re comfortable with and start slowly.
If you’re not ready for big crowds, nightclubs or concerts, start by going out for a meal with friends and build it up. Remember too that alcohol can have a negative impact on your mental health, so if you’re worried, consider sticking to soft drinks.
Respect other people
Everyone is dealing with the easing of restrictions in their own way and while most people are excited, others may feel anxious about readjusting to how life was before lockdown. Be mindful of other people and remember that they may be feeling more anxious or cautious than you feel.
Don’t take offence if it looks as though someone is trying to avoid you, instead be kind and considerate. It’s nothing personal.
Although this may be obvious, many people struggle to speak about their feelings, especially when it comes to their mental health. If you’re anxious about returning to the office or workplace, speaking to your manager about your concerns can help. This may be about overcrowding on the train or worries about a busy workplace; however, they’ll be able to reassure you and help find ways to manage your anxiety.
If you’re anxious about being out with friends in a big crowd, talk to them about this and work out together what you can do to help reduce these feelings. It’s likely they’ll be feeling a similar way so there is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed about speaking up.
Handling difficult conversations about restrictions easing
With restrictions set to ease, it’s important to go at your own pace. However, this may mean more conversations that are difficult to have, perhaps with your colleague, or friend.
You may feel uncomfortable about bringing up a sensitive issue or worry about how the other person will react. Carrying negative emotions and thoughts around can be lonely and exhausting and opening up is a way to ease the burden.
First and foremost, go at your own pace and where possible, talk to whoever you feel most comfortable with. When we’re having a difficult conversation, our emotions can quickly become heightened. To ease your anxiety, you may find it helpful to make a list of your main talking points. If you become flustered or overwhelmed, take a deep breath, and refer to your list.
You may worry about what other people may think and how they will react. Once you’ve covered how you’re feeling, calmly ask for their thoughts, and any additional support they can offer you. Walking side by side can help a conversation feel more relaxed and less intense, too.
Finally, if you are struggling with anxiety, it’s always a good idea to check in with your GP to talk about your symptoms.
Particularly for those anxious about returning to work, getting into a routine can help to reduce feelings of anxiety. Start by going to bed and getting up at a similar time as you would on a normal workday, and try to finish at a similar time. It’s important that expectations you’re putting on yourself are realistic otherwise you may end up stressing yourself out more. Remember you’re not used to commuting or working normally so be gentle with yourself on your first few days back.
For those experiencing social anxiety, again, being prepared can help reduce these feelings. If you need to travel on public transport, make sure you’ve planned your route and know how long the journey will take. Also make sure you check out your venue online before you go, this can help you to understand their set up and what to expect when you arrive.
While the easing of all restrictions is exciting, make sure you consider how other people will be feeling. We’ve got used to a life with social distancing and staying home, so it’s understandable that people may be feeling overwhelmed.
Seek help and advice
If you’re struggling with anxiety, speak to a GP who’ll be able to help you with ways you can manage it. Organisations like Mind, the NHS and Bupa all have a wealth of advice freely available online, while charities like the Samaritans and CALM both have phonelines for people needing urgent support.