How has your first week of ‘freedom’ been? Have you queued on the high street, got that lockdown mop cropped or enjoyed an alfresco pint yet? As lockdown measures slowly ease, many are embracing the possibilities of freedom that await us this summer – but is the palpable excitement of normality being felt by everyone?

In another of our lockdown spotlights, we’ve called on one of our in-house experts. Tracey Paxton, Managing Director of The Employee Resilience Company, a partner of BHSF, focuses on the challenges that those with social anxiety may be facing and shares some pragmatic advice on how we can all happily and healthily emerge from life after lockdown.

We should be prepared for the fact that the end of lockdown might be as hard for us as the start was.

Just as it took us time to find ways of coping during lockdown, we should also expect that it will take time to find our way back, and to reconnect with life.  Things may not be the same as they were before. Many of us are wondering what exactly does life after COVID-19 look like? How different is the world going to be? How different are we going to be?

As various lockdown measures start to lift, we are receiving a marked increase in calls from our clients reporting anxiety regarding returning to normal life and fearful of returning to the office, bars and restaurants. For many people who have restricted their activities, it can feel very strange to return to what was pre-COVID ‘normal’ life and they may not be as confident as they used to be.

Just as it took us time to find ways of coping during lockdown, we should also expect that it will take time to find our way back, and to reconnect with life.  Things may not be the same as they were before. It’s completely understandable to feel like this, although lockdown has affected people differently. Some can’t wait to get out there again; some are nervous and have lost confidence.

Feeling uncomfortable in a scenario that once felt normal can make us feel inadequate. We ask ourselves: ‘Why did I feel comfortable going out and mixing with others before, but now I am afraid?’ The main difference is that we have been involved in a life-changing event which has changed the way we behave and the way we see things. It’s probably a temporary change, but we still have to come to terms with it.

Here are my top tips to reintegrate into the ‘outside world’

Acknowledge your feelings

The first and kindest step you can take is to acknowledge that these feelings are reasonable and to understand that they are a natural part of a response to unprecedented times such as those we have all experienced over the past year. Focus on the present – mindfulness meditation is one way of bringing your mind back to the present moment.  Try to record and appreciate good things as they happen and take opportunities to reset and relax.

Talk to people or professionals you trust – it’s important to talk about how you feel. Don’t dismiss your concerns or judge yourself too harshly.

Be patient with yourself

For those who are feeling intimidated by the prospect of expanding their routines again, gradual and incremental change can make the process far more comfortable. This could be introducing a longer trip out to a shop a bit further away than your recent routine has included or arranging to meet somebody for some outdoor sporting or fitness activity. Every time you go back to something which used to feel familiar, it could take time for it to feel less unusual and scary. It’s only by building up tolerance gently that you can move through any apprehension, so pace yourself – recognising that you need to go at the right pace for you is important. It can be hard to let others move forward without you – for example maybe your child wants to see friends.

Start slowly and build up tolerance – try doing something that challenges you every day, or every few days. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t go well but keep at it. Keep a note of things you’ve achieved, enjoyed or surprised yourself doing

Re-engaging with your social network

It will undoubtedly take some adjustment to begin to connect with more people face to face, however spending time with others will help you to rekindle one of the fundamental ways humans connect – one which has sadly been displaced during recent events. It’s important to discuss concerns with those close to you, but also to allow other people space to move at their own pace.

Look after your wellbeing

Taking care of your physical health can help you to cope with feelings of anxiety and stressful situations when they arise. Eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising regularly and establishing good sleeping patterns assists our mental health. As life starts to get a little busier, remember to keep taking time out to look after yourself. Gradually build up what you’re doing as much as you feel comfortable. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and turn down invitations if you need to.

Carer responsibilities

During lockdown, those of us with caring responsibilities have supported our families. For parents and carers, returning to work is likely to provide a distance that might be much welcomed and needed – but also prove challenging emotionally when family closeness has been such a support to so many during lockdown.

Avoid comparison culture

We were all already guilty of spending too much time focusing on what we should have ‘achieved’ during lockdown, feeling that we should not just be surviving but thriving like those extensively sharing Couch to 5K goals, honed baking skills and new hobbies. Now there’s a dangerous pull towards the ultimate post-lockdown wish list, with social media threads awash with beer garden and alfresco brunch bookings. Fomo levels are high. There’s a pressure to have more booked in. Having spent so much time away from the real world, there is a real sense that our grip on reality has been lost. We have created a fantasy of what our normal life used to be like so need to take a step back and stop comparing.

“We should be prepared for the fact that the end of lockdown might be as hard for us as the start was."

Access expert support

The pandemic has presented us with issues we may never had encountered before and the mental health rollercoaster isn’t just confined to the ‘stay at home’ ruling. So when it becomes impossible for you, or someone you know, to stay positive and keep social anxiety under control, then turn to specialists for the expert support and resources required.

Find out more about the BHSF range of services and support here.