Emerging from lockdown will be an unique experience
As I have written in previous articles, lockdown was like a bolt out of the blue. One day things seemed OK - the next - shutdown. It was a blow to the system by anyone's standards. It may seem a long time ago now but in the scheme of things, it is relatively recent. It is important to remember this kind of change can have a lasting impact. It was sudden and for many, it was a traumatic experience. A lot has happened in a relatively short period of time.
Those I have spoken to during this crisis have experienced acute anxiety, panic attacks, low mood and depression. Fortunately, they have felt able to reach and take stock of how they have coped thus far. They are also keen to ensure they keep their own well being safe throughout such an unsettling experience (without judgement or criticism) as they slowly emerge from lockdown.
For some, it was evident the work they had done on their inner selves prior to lockdown had stood them in good stead. Many reported they had felt empowered enough to help others deal with their sense of isolation and anxiety. However, I sensed an underlying concern about coping with life post lockdown. As they begin to re-enter the world within the restrictions, a freedom of sorts does not feel an easy thing to embrace.
One foot in lockdown and the other out is not going to be an easy transition for many of us. When we are inside for so long it can feel strange to go out. We might lose our confidence and begin to doubt our own ability to do the things we were doing before lockdown. A lot of change in a short period can be stressful, and whilst some of the people I talk with have embraced lockdown by making their environment their 'haven', further down the line they may experience problems as the 'new normal' of the outside world begins to bite.
Some individuals spoke of wanting to get back 'to their old life' because just now the future looks bleak. Whilst this is a human response, it is also important to think carefully about what kind of life we want. Going from nil to a 40-hour working week, trying to 'make up' for lost time, get back to 'normal' to erase the lockdown experience from our minds - all of these responses may not be helpful for our well-being.
It was revealed that people had started to think about how they were going to get their needs met regarding their mental health post lockdown. So, a teacher who was struggling to work remotely with her pupils had decided to get some help for her anxiety. She needed to speak to her manager about her current state of mind and how it was affecting her work. I got the impression she didn't want to do this but she recognised as an act of self-compassion: she owed it to herself to take care of herself.
There is no shame in asking for help and getting the support we require when our mental health is compromised.
A personal trainer was struggling with a loss of identity during lockdown; other people seemed to be doing OK; she felt she couldn't acknowledge she was struggling. Her own personal self-isolation had kept her stuck and withdrawn. Fear of missing out seemed to have resulted in unhealthy behaviours. As she became more aware of her desire to help people improve their well-being, she discovered she had a key need for maintaining her own. Her confidence returned and she found she was able to come out of the shadows and re-build her business.
On the other hand, time in lockdown has come as a relief and provided an enforced 'retreat' for some. It has become a comfortable place to be. A space in which to reflect and draw a line between 'what was' and 'what might be'. These individuals have been given permission to get off the treadmill of their lives and 'just be'. They no longer have the pressure of performing, producing or showing up to events 'at all costs' (usually to themselves). They speak of being more in control of their lives. They are looking for a change in direction.
As conversations flowed I was struck by the capacity of these individuals to reach out and 'check-in' to see if what they were experiencing within themselves was OK. Change is often challenging and leaving lockdown will be too; however, taking a risk and reaching out is definitely a good thing if we are to be successful in dealing with life's challenges and diverse situations. Very often the opinion we hold of ourselves is based on what people think of us. When we know what we need to do for ourselves, it's empowering, as it helps us to move forward through life with a strong guide within.
It is important to be compassionate towards ourselves. If you have found lockdown and its consequences have increased your sense of anxiety then it makes sense to see your GP and seek help from others, including professional therapists, to talk about your worries. We have lived under a cloud of chronic uncertainty, isolation, financial insecurity, job loss and death of family and friends. Recovery takes time; it may be months for some, years for others.
There is no escaping the fact: it is going to take time to get into a routine, just as did when lockdown kicked in.
If you are struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues, avoid beating yourself up. Be honest with yourself as you would if you were helping someone else who finds themselves in a difficult spot - with understanding and compassion. The people I have spoken to during lockdown did just that - for themselves and for others.
And remember, there is no rush to get back 'out there'. This is not a competition about who can reach the 'new normal' first. Do it In your own time and your own pace.
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