Feeling wobbly about leaving lockdown?
This is part one of a series of articles about coming out of lockdown.
“I’m starting to get anxious about being around lots of people, going back to the office and having to use public transport.”
When I posted my TikTok about being nervous of coming out of lockdown, there were lots of likes for this comment. It was a popular subject.
A year after the first lockdown, as we start to think about coming out of Covid-19 altogether, I’m hearing fears and nervousness about returning to society. Most of my clients and many of my followers are nervous of coming out of lockdown.
For some of us, mistrust of the government, and fear for our physical safety is the issue. But, on deeper exploration, many of us have other fears about going back into society, too. As we come up to a year of relative isolation, many of us are starting to worry about going back into company.
We fear coming out of our comfort zones, to face the world again. We wonder whether it's safe enough to open up and connect, on a psychological, as well as physical level.
Much of the reason we’re nervous is that we’re dreading the idea of losing the peace, the freedom from social triggering, and the relative lack of demands. We imagine life will be full and overwhelming again. All of this is normal.
In this article, I’ll start to explain why it’s OK to feel nervous of coming out of lockdown, and what to do about it.
Freedom from triggering
When we first went into lockdown a year ago, many of us were anxious. Those first few weeks were all about calming our nervous systems down from fight or flight. We responded to a very real threat by going into survival mode. This is a natural physiological response to danger. It can’t be stopped. It’s a biological necessity.
Fight, flight, freeze
Can you identify with any of these?
- Fight - Getting angry about the situation, blaming the government and fighting injustice; arguments at home or demonstrations in the street.
- Flight - Anxiety, stress, or overwork.
- Freeze - Shutting down and becoming very insular.
After the initial shock, we adjusted. We had to. Many of us found that lockdown provided us with the opportunity to focus on what really matters to us, and what comforts us. We had only our needs to focus on. This came as a relief to many of us.
Out in the world, there are plenty of opportunities to be triggered into a fear of rejection. We could also be afraid of not getting our needs met, in company.
Collectively, I believe we are all undergoing a type of social anxiety. Underneath, being out of practice socially, this may be the fear of being judged or criticised, and ultimately rejected.
We haven’t had to worry too much about fitting in, in the last year. But, in normal circumstances, this is a primal survival need. Ancestrally, we needed to be accepted by the community to survive. With the end of lockdown, we may fear being judged by the much larger community.
Responding to demands
Lockdown has given us the opportunity to stop responding to so many people’s demands. What most of my clients are struggling with is a fear of having to take on more than they've had to in lockdown, especially in relationships. A dread of being overwhelmed again, conflict, or having to say ‘no'.
We've been in our comfort zone bubbles for so long. With less drama, it makes absolute sense that we'd be scared of being overwhelmed by other people right now.
Many of us discovered, allowed, and enjoyed our introversion. We focussed on our needs and what we wanted to do. It was a relief to only have to cope with ourselves, for a change.
In British polite culture, many of us find it so hard to say ‘No’. We don’t like conflict, and we don’t know how to handle it very well, so we often pretend to be fine, when we are actually tired or grumpy.
So, in lockdown we got to say ‘No’ without having to actually say it. Much of the reason we’re now scared of coming out of lockdown is because we’re nervous of losing that ease and freedom.
What to do about feeling nervous of leaving lockdown
- Take it one step at a time. Take it slowly and with a lot of self-compassion.
- Recognise that coming out of lockdown deserves to be treated carefully. It’s another exceptional circumstance.
- Don’t lose sight of your needs. Come back to what you feel and need, frequently.
- Focus on the present moment. Fear of coming out of lockdown is a future worry. Focus on what you need now to be OK. Then, when the time comes, carry on in the same way. Just focus on getting ready to go out, rather than on the event itself.
- Allow yourself the permission to quit at any time if you feel uncomfortable.
- Social anxiety is the fear of being judged critically. In my line of business, this means you are already judging yourself harshly in company. So, this may need some understanding. Do you put yourself down? What unkind things do you say to yourself in social situations? Could you be kinder to yourself?
Ultimately, you deserve to feel proud of your difference, and good about who you are, alone or in company. We are creatures who want to connect and find community. We also need to go back to some measure of co-regulation with each other. But, we need to do it in our own way.
Be gentle with yourself, and you will be where you need to be.