03 July, 2020

Looking after your mental health as lockdown lifts

For many of us, the process of re-emerging from lockdown may give rise to feelings of nervousness or anxiety. Here we explore some of these feelings and consider what might help us to mind ourselves and our mental health as lockdown lifts. Our Advocacy Manager and registered occupational therapist, Louise O’Leary, talks us through some tips to help with this.

What is ‘re-entry anxiety’?

What is ‘re-entry anxiety’?

The sooner than anticipated lifting of coronavirus restrictions brings with it opportunities to reconnect with friends and family ‘off-screen’. We can look forward to revisiting places we enjoy spending time in, whether within our communities or around the country. 

The idea of ‘re-entry anxiety’ has been used recently to describe the feelings of anxiety that can result as lockdowns lift in certain countries, as life hopefully returns to a degree of normality. In recent months, we have all had to adapt rapidly to varying levels of restrictions on our lives, and establish new routines for ourselves and our families. These have been challenging for us all, but may also have afforded us a sense of security with the ‘stay home, stay safe’ message. Now, as most of us are spending more time outside of the home, shops have reopened, traffic has increased and things are getting busier. This activity may prove anxiety-provoking for many of us.

Another reason why people may be experiencing some heightened anxiety at this particular time may be due to the anticipation of increased social activity. For those of us who may experience social anxiety, in particular, the prospect of returning to a greater level of interaction now, whether via work or otherwise, might cause some stress.

Is this anxiety normal?

Is this anxiety normal?

While what’s happening around the world due to the pandemic is not normal, feeling some degree of anxiety or worry because of it is - and this continues to be true as we move into this new phase. Thankfully, the risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus in Ireland has been lowered greatly, but the need to be vigilant remains nonetheless. Some stress or worry about this may, in fact, be helpful and protective, as it may make us more likely to adhere to public health guidance, like wearing a mask when shopping.

Some degree of anxiety is natural during these difficult times. It can become problematic, however, if it reaches a level where it’s having a negative impact on our lives or health, or where we find it’s regularly stopping us doing things that are important to us.

What can help?

  • Keeping informed, and getting that information from reliable sources

    There is often reassurance to be found in facts and reliable advice, as it can meaningfully counter worry or negative thoughts that may be more rooted in fear. This may be especially important if you’ve been advised to ‘cocoon’ in recent weeks. The latest national advice and information around Covid-19 can be found here.

  • Practising mindfulness, grounding or breathing exercises

    In this episode of the RTE podcast, ‘You OK?’, clinical psychologist Dr Claire Hayes talks through some practical exercises to deal with anxiety related to this new phase. You can also find brief breathing and mindfulness exercises at Beaumont Hospital’s online Mindfulness and Relaxation Centre.

  • Having conversations with family and friends about how you are feeling

    This could be especially relevant if others seem to be more at ease with loosened restrictions. You might feel more comfortable meeting family or friends in an outdoor space at a less busy time when it’s easier to maintain physical distancing. Alternatively, you might be more comfortable meeting up with only one person at a time. 

  • Doing things at your own pace

    Setting achievable tasks for yourself each week to adjust your recent routine can help to challenge anxiety and build confidence in being out and about, or around others more. If social anxiety has been something you’ve worked on before, think about what kinds of things have been manageable previously.

  • Staying connected with others

    While coffee shops, gyms and cinemas are preparing to reopen, keeping things simple may feel most comfortable for you to start with, and that’s ok. Staying in touch by phone or with video calls, meeting outdoors in a garden or park, or going for a walk in a quieter place with a friend remain equally as valuable.

  • Being compassionate with yourself

    Adapting to much change, in general, can often be tiring, but recent months have been unprecedented and naturally will have affected us in different ways. Many of us may feel less productive than we usually do, and perhaps need more rest and downtime. While there may be more opportunities to do different things and go places in the coming weeks, it’s just as important to remind ourselves of the continued need for self-care and rest during these challenging times. Don’t feel guilty about making time for yourself, or for making yourself a priority.

  • Supporting young people

    Children returning to daycare, childminding, or creche may experience some initial anxiety. Remember, this is natural after such an extended period at home. Information and advice to support them with this is available here.

Help is at hand

Help is at hand

If you are worried about your mental health, or that of a family member, it’s important not to delay seeking help and support. You can find a list of different sources of support and information here.

Continue to…

What is this new normal?