Post lockdown nerves?

A lot has been written about the effects of the Covid pandemic on our mental health. Particularly in the early days there was a rise in reports of depression, loneliness and anxiety.

A study in the Lancet found that in the early weeks of the first lockdown depression and anxiety were at their highest levels and they then decreased rapidly after that. Perhaps this was because people got used to the new situation, or later on lockdown measures were being eased and the summer was around the corner – potentially lifting their mood. People living alone, women, younger people, and those with lower incomes and educational levels were most at risk from worsened mental health impacts.


We evolved to live in groups and we are still a social species, positive social contact is a crucial factor affecting many people’s mental health. Therefore it’s not surprising that our mental health can suffer when we’re isolated from others on a long-term basis, just as physical health suffers when we are restricted in the exercise we can do. Add in the uncertainty that many people have felt about their incomes and the safety of themselves and their loved ones then it’s obvious that the Covid-19 crisis would have a huge impact on how people feel.


Almost a year later, many people are waiting desperately for lockdown to end, hoping that the vaccines and the warm summer months will allow them to get back to normal life, get back to the shops, back to work or to the pub, see loved ones and friends again without fear or restriction.


For some people though, lockdowns ending might not be a source of relief but of increased anxiety instead.


For those suffering from social anxiety, or those who feel most comfortable in their own company, the lockdowns have been as much of a blessing as a curse. They don’t have to worry about getting out and about, interacting with people at work, or awkward social events, because for the past year staying in has been the norm – and for a variety of reasons that’s where some people feel most comfortable.


At the start of the lockdowns there was also a sense of a shared experience and “we’re all in this together”. I heard a few reports from people who were generally anxious before the lockdowns that all of a sudden it was more socially acceptable to be anxious – because many more people were feeling anxious generally. This made it ‘easier’ to be anxious.


How do you think coming back out of lockdown will feel for you? Maybe you’re really excited to get back out again? Or will it bring up fresh feelings of anxiety or fear?


Even people who may never have suffered from social anxiety may find it unnerving at first to be surrounded by a crowd. We’ve all become much more used to spending time on our own or in small groups. Walking into a busy room may feel strange for us all for a while and bring up unexpected feelings of fear or anxiety. We’ve been told for a year now that big crowds equal danger, maybe those messages will stick with us after it becomes safe again.


When life returns to normal and pubs, schools, workplaces open again, for many there will be sense of relief, but lets not forget those for whom it may be a difficult transition, and a fresh source of anxiety.


Like prisoners who get used to the same 4 walls and restrictions of prison life, stepping outside again into freedom can be daunting. I wonder how many of us might feel similarly as we step out into the world and into crowds again, without our masks to hide behind.


When other people are looking forward to getting out and about, it might be hard to admit feelings of fear or anxiety about the same thing. However I think it’s a perfectly normal, understandable response, and acknowledging and accepting how we feel can go a long way towards managing those feelings.


If being in lockdown, or the thought of coming out of it is affecting you at the moment, and you’d like someone to talk to about it, please don’t hesitate to get in contact. Reference Fancourt D, Steptoe A, Bu F, Trajectories of anxiety and depressive symptoms during enforced isolation due to COVID-19 in England: a longitudinal observational study, The Lancet, viewed 10th February 2021, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(20)30482-X/fulltext

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