Reopening anxiety: what it is and how to cope with coming out of lockdown
The easing of lockdown restrictions is another step towards a return to normality for us all, allowing us to reconnect with loved ones and friends after an extended period of hardship and isolation. However, ‘reopening’ or ‘freedom’ day, as it became known, brings another significant shift to our lives. That can bring complications to those who might be anxious about returning to society.
To help you adjust to post-lockdown life, we’ve put together a list of helpful tips and guidance to help you cope with reopening anxiety.
What is reopening anxiety?
As restrictions are rolled back and society reopens, some may feel symptoms of anxiety being triggered as they become nervous about returning to ‘normal’ life. This is what is known as reopening anxiety.
Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety that you may experience include:
- Feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
- Increased breathing
- A persistent sense of worry, apprehension, or dread
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Anger, irritability and impatience
Thankfully, there are lots of things you can do to minimise these feelings and ensure you adjust back into normality without damaging your mental health.
How to manage reopening anxiety: 9 tips
1. Accept that what you’re feeling is natural
For those who are suffering from anxiety about reopening, it’s vital you keep one thing at the forefront of your mind. Your feelings are entirely normal and you are not alone.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a strain on everyone, and even positive change like a return to normal life require adjustment and caution.
Don’t assume that how you feel is trivial or try to dismiss your feelings as an overreaction. Acknowledge how you feel and try work out exactly what it is that triggers that anxiety. The other tips below will help you to pinpoint the issue and work to minimise symptoms.
2. Don’t rush into anything
Going too fast and pushing yourself into something you’re not comfortable with will only serve to hamper your progress and increase your anxiety.
Be sure to start off slow and rebuild your confidence. If it’s the sheer number of people in crowded spaces that makes you feel anxious, think of ways you can encounter smaller groups of people first. For example, you could plan a trip to your local shopping centre at a time when it’s less likely to be busy. Weekends tend to be pretty hectic, but during the week or later into the evening, footfall tends to be lower.
Alternatively, you could plan to stay outside to begin with. For example, you could go to an outdoor garden centre during a slightly busier period.
Find ways to ease yourself in and soon you’ll feel more comfortable taking greater steps back into society. Remember, go at your own pace and only do what you’re comfortable with.
3. Think only about what you can control
You know where you draw your own boundaries and what you’d consider to be a crossing of those boundaries, but you don’t have this information about other people. That feeling of not knowing other people’s attitudes towards COVID and reopening might be a big influence on triggering your anxiety.
You can’t control the actions and behaviours of others, but you can control these things on a personal level. Think about what you can do to make yourself more comfortable in a public space. That might be wearing a mask, sanitising your hands after touching a surface or making the extra effort to maintain social distancing.
Whatever it is, focus on what you can control and let go of thoughts about how others conduct themselves.
4. Learn techniques to cope with your anxiety symptoms
Anxiety manifests itself differently in everyone and can causes both physical and psychological symptoms. Having techniques on hand to deal with your anxiety symptoms can help you to move past this in a positive way.
Dealing with the physical symptoms of anxiety
When you experience physical anxiety symptoms, such as muscle tension, an increased heart rate and dizziness, this is because your body has entered its ‘fight or flight’ mode as a way of protecting you.
To help reduce these unhelpful symptoms and return to a more normal state, take a number of deep breaths in and out. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for three seconds and then breathe out again for four seconds. Make sure that your abdomen expands when you do this so that you’re getting as deep a breath as possible. Try to remove yourself from the event or situation that has made you anxious, focus on your breathing and how your body changes as you do so.
Dealing with the psychological symptoms of anxiety
If you find that you’re experiencing the psychological symptoms of anxiety, such as negative thoughts and excessive worrying, it can be useful to have a series of mantras to say to yourself or even out loud, to help calm yourself down. These should be the opposite of the negative thoughts you’re experiencing, and may include things like:
- “I’m safe and well”
- “I can get through this”
- “I’ve done everything in my power to protect myself and my loved ones”
- “This won’t break me”
These techniques can help to provide relief, reduce your levels of anxiety and allow you to continue going about your day.
5. Go in with a plan
Anxiety often comes from a sense of uncertainty. After living through a most unusual 18 months, a significant shift back to normality is going to have a fair few uncertainties attached.
Another way of focusing only on what you can control is to make sure you go into any social engagements with a plan. It might be as small as knowing exactly what time you will arrive and leave an event, or by which mode of transport you’ll get home. These small pointers can give structure and a sense of certainty to the event, and make everything run that little bit more smoothly.
6. Make an informed decision
When you’re planning to attend an event or location, gathering relevant information could help put your mind at ease when it comes to heading out.
For example, if you’re planning to go to a restaurant for an evening meal, there’s plenty you could find out beforehand that might help narrow your search and put your mind at ease:
- How many customers does it sit at any one time?
- How busy is it likely to be when you’d like to go?
- What are their COVID protocols like? Will staff be wearing masks? Is social distancing being enforced?
- How would you get there? Will you have to take a busy bus or can you walk and avoid all social contact on the way?
Gathering this type of information can help you to make an informed decision about the event as a whole. Only go ahead with those arrangements if you’re comfortable with the answers to questions like those above.
7. Let others know what you’re comfortable with
You might not be able to influence the behaviour of people you don’t know, but you can set some clear boundaries with friends and ask them to be respectful. Having a support network around you, filled with people who know your character and what you’re comfortable with, can be an incredibly powerful tool when managing your reintegration back into society. This means that you’re not facing undue pressure from people you’re likely to socialise with, and you’re able to go at your own pace without worrying.
The same applies to you and how you interact with your friends and family. Make yourself aware of their expectations and boundaries, working together to ensure everyone has a great time when out and about.
8. Know that it will get easier
Adjusting to change is a common source of anxiety in many people. We’ve been through an incredibly difficult period, but the reopening of society offers hope that we can all reengage with loved ones and never have to limit that contact again.
You’ll know all of this, of course, but sometimes it doesn’t make it any easier. Just be ready to reframe any negative thoughts, separating the unhelpful and focusing on the positive. Know that, over time, things will get easier and feelings of anxiety will fade. As we all move towards the ‘new normal’, you can rest assured that you’ll start to feel much more comfortable.
9. Speak to someone about how you’re feeling
If you find that your symptoms are persisting, it’s incredibly important to be open and honest with someone you trust. They can then look to support your efforts to get back out into society and learn to recognise your anxiety triggers. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved.
It might also be beneficial to speak to others who are struggling with the same condition and feelings. Online or in-person support groups are a great starting point.
If your anxiety symptoms are worsening and you find it’s having a significant impact on your life, it’s important that you reach out and seek professional help. Speak to your GP for advice on what your options are. They may be able to refer you for specialist treatment if appropriate.
While reopening anxiety is entirely normal, it’s not something you have to struggle with on your own. These tips can help you to start finding your feet again in society and you can always seek specialist support if you find that things are becoming too much for you. Help is just a phone call away.