Coronavirus and the new anxiety

The UK has been in the throes of lockdown since 23rd March. While pubs, restaurants, hair salons, and now gyms and certain beauty salons are permitted to open in the coming weeks, as normality starts to return, I’m growing ever more uncomfortable.

Young woman wearing a face mask

I’m constantly juggling a mixture of emotions and how I’m feeling changes almost daily. I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family again and enjoying the knowledge that it’s not going to be like this forever. But on the other hand, there’s a side of me that is worried the situation will worsen and we’ll be thrown back into a restricted way of living.

There’s also the guilt that comes with this discomfort. As restrictions have slowly been lifted, the social invites have started to come through thick and fast. While many people are seemingly happy to go about their day and embrace the returning normality, I am battling newfound anxiety that I’ve never experienced before.

Saying no to loved ones is never easy, and now it feels more personal to decline an invitation.

Fortunately, I’ve only had a handful of uncomfortable conversations following a decision to stay home, and many of my friends understand, or they are feeling the same way. But this guilt for declining social interaction and new anxiety for the unknown, and fear of what might happen is becoming too much. I’m slowly easing back into the world outside of my home-turned-office, meeting friends in the local park, running errands and attending appointments, wearing a mask, but I want to know that this feeling will go away, or at least, is manageable.

From conversations with colleagues and friends, I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. To better understand, I spoke with counsellors Richard Miller and Sarah Lane, who explain more about social anxiety and how we can take the steps to manage these feelings.

Ease back into socialising at your own pace,” says Sarah. “I’d recommend initially meeting up with people who you trust and feel comfortable being yourself around. Determine whether you feel less anxious meeting up with one person or with a small group and start with the situation you feel most relaxed in. Then you can extend to seeing people you feel more anxious with and to more challenging situations once you’ve built your confidence up a bit again.”

“Usually, when people feel anxious during an interaction, their attention will be focused inwards on physical symptoms and appraisal of how they are coming across. It’s helpful to try to shift the attention outwards to focusing on the surrounding environment and the other people there and what they are saying.”

“Often people who feel nervous around others will spend time worrying in advance about what could go wrong in social situations and analysing what they perceive didn’t go well afterwards, which maintains the anxiety. If you notice these sorts of thoughts, try to refocus on sensory experience; what you can see, hear and touch.”

Image of someone's feet sitting in the grass

The first and worst mistake we make when trying to manage social anxiety is to try and fix or hide from our feelings, explains Richard. “In doing so, all we seem to achieve is further confirmation in our growing belief that we really can’t manage anxiety as ‘normal people’ can.”

“A commonly held belief about anxiety is that we can only overcome the unpleasant feeling by being rational. This is wrong. Trying to fix anxiety by ignoring it is like hoping to keep dry while walking in the rain. What’s widely touted as ‘coping mechanisms’ and ‘distraction techniques’ are at best, a temporary umbrella and at worst, a force to inadvertently extend our journey in the downpour.”

“Our emotions themselves are the main arbiter of our anxiety. That pounding feeling in your chest, which feels like its sole purpose is to throw you into orbit. That feeling, while unpleasant, is your body’s attempt to support you. Be curious about your feelings and lean into them. You want to get to know them,” says Richard. “Much like getting to know a nervous dog, the less defensive you are in their presence, the sooner you’ll see a tail wag.”

There are many ways to manage feelings of unease and anxiety. Some you may be aware of and regularly practising already. While these are new feelings for me, when feeling overwhelmed or stressed, I know what I need to do to feel better. Sometimes that’s calling a friend and simply having a laugh and forgetting about what’s on my mind, other times it’s going for a run, some yoga in the morning or a long walk with a podcast. Sometimes I need to sit with the feeling and understand exactly what is causing the problem, and what I can do about it.

As uncomfortable as facing these feelings can be, understanding and knowing not only what you need to do to overcome them, but that you’ll be stronger because of it, is incredibly useful.

And, it’s vital that we remember that we don’t need to face these feelings alone. Even if we’re not in the right space to speak to a loved one, there is help available. Online support is more available than ever, so you can get the help you need, whenever you are.

“We only resolve anxiety by befriending our fears. And if you need some guidance to learn how to do that, especially with the scarier beasts of your emotional world, then a counsellor is a good person to speak to,” says Richard. “A good counsellor has been there before and won’t be put off by your feelings. They know that everything will be OK – not because they have followed the platitudes better than other people, or because their coping mechanisms menu happens to be much more powerful – they know it will be OK because they have witnessed, time and time again, the beauty, strength and resolve that emerges from facing our most painful experiences.”

There are so many benefits to counselling and online therapy in particular. From having the opportunity to talk about how you’re feeling without fear of judgement, to speaking with someone who not only understands but can guide you through it. Everyone can benefit from therapy. You don’t need to be in crisis to need a helping hand. We all deserve support.

“Counselling can provide a space to share any concerns you may have about re-engaging in social situations with someone who is completely separate from your network,” says Sarah. “It allows you to explore freely your feelings and worries without being judged. A counsellor could also help you consider how you might best move forwards with starting to socialise again.”

Happiful writer Katie shares her tips for supporting yourself with re-entry anxiety in How to manage anxiety over returning to ‘the new normal’, including taking each day at your own pace, planning ahead and exploring holistic therapy.

Visit Life Coach Directory to read Why we need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, where I explain the benefits of discomfort, how we can grow from it and asking for help.

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Written by Ellen Lees
Head of Content.
Written by Ellen Lees
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