Coming out of lockdown - freedom or fear?
Monday morning and we are off! Free to travel where we want, and free to meet with a few friends in our back gardens. It feels like an exhilarating rush of freedom, and I am enjoying imagining where I might go and people I would like to see.
Soon we will be able to travel, stay away from home (if we can find somewhere still available), go to the seaside, climb mountains. In about six weeks we will be able to stay over with our friends and family, and life will really seem to be returning to normal.
But do I want it to return to “normal”? Like many people, I have enjoyed the relative tranquillity of working from home, of a limited social life, the greater abundance of time. If “normal” means rushing around, spending hours on trains and in the car, out every night at various activities and worrying about whether I do actually have a social life, then maybe I'm not quite so sure.
And also, it's not going to be normal, is it? The pandemic hasn’t ended, no vaccination is 100% effective, there are new variants circulating and the third wave is already looming in Europe. And the Government is warning us that things may not go to plan. So, it doesn’t feel brilliantly safe to throw all caution to the wind quite yet.
One of the challenges that we face in rebuilding a fuller life is how to cope with this uncertainty; how to decide what we feel is a reasonable risk, and how we build our confidence to go out into the world again. In some ways, it’s as if we have become institutionalised, living a safe but restricted life.
So, some of the guidance for people taking their first steps in normal life after being in an institution might be worth considering. In a review of the effects of prison sentences on people’s personalities, Christian Jarrett of the BBC found that: “The personality change that most dominated their accounts was an inability to trust others – a kind of perpetual paranoia.” The study found prisoners talking about feeling distanced from people, and finding it hard to trust other people.
Over the last year, we have developed habits of avoiding other people, even stepping into the traffic rather than sharing a pavement, and managing the all-pervasive social distancing requirements. We have suppressed our natural desire to hug and be close to those we love, with corresponding damage to our mental health. We may have enjoyed solitude and order, and a lack of social demands.
For a 'new normal', rebuilding trust so that we can connect with each other in the many different ways that we need is essential, and will take time.
Six steps to help you on your journey out of lockdown
Some people have had jobs that have pretty much stayed the same but, for those of us who have been furloughed or have worked from home for the last year, the following pointers may be helpful:
1. Take it slowly
It will take some time to readjust and it doesn't all have to happen overnight. In fact, it can't happen overnight! Be patient with yourself, be patient with others and say no to anything you feel uncomfortable with
2. Hold on to what works
Keep doing the things you find supportive to yourself. So if you like calm and silence and not going out quite as much as you did, it's OK to make sure you still get plenty of calm times. In fact, it's something we all need.
3. Be open-minded
Don’t expect things to be like they were before – things have changed. Be curious as to what new opportunities and ways of doing things may be appearing.
Notice how you are reacting to people and check-in with yourself as to whether that is how you want to respond.
5. Compassion for others
Recognise that we are all going to reintegrate at different speeds – be patient with others, and there is the challenge of recognising that we have all made different decisions about our response to this pandemic, and the lockdown rules.
6. Build community
Find practical things that you can do to support your local community, and that you enjoy, whether it is litter picking, helping to plant trees, playing music outside retirement homes…
The next few months are going to be a strange time – a mix of exhilaration, fun, connection, hope and quite probably disappointment and setbacks as well, as we work out what our new world looks like. We will need each other more than ever before, so looking after ourselves is a vital part of this.
Let us hope that we can build back better, and enjoy living together on this wonderful planet of ours.
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