Lockdown restrictions are easing in Sydney and Melbourne! For some of us living in these cities, we are poking our heads out of our front doors and stepping back into the wider world for the first time in over three months. And yes, it is freeing, intoxicating and joyous as we reconnect with family and friends, with doing the things we delight in outside of the confines of our homes. Cartwheels abound!!
However, there is another state of being that is obvious as we come out of lockdown and deal with the new reality of learning to live with the COVID virus. And that is anxiety – feelings of nervousness or worry and distress that are not easy to control, a sense of apprehension. There are some common signs and symptoms that can help you recognise if you are experiencing anxiety. I recommend you check out the Black Dog Institute and Beyond Blue for more details and support resources.
“Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. Up to one-third of women and one-fifth of men will experience anxiety at some point in their lives.” (Black Dog Institute, 2021).
Among my family and friends, and for myself, the anxiety is about physical safety, about re-entering the external work office or schoolroom, about shopping in supermarkets, socialising, going to the gym or local pool, catching public transport, about concerns of how to sensitively and securely check others’ vaccination status, about planning interstate or international travel to see family; about how to be in the outside world now, or how to hold onto the lessons and new beneficial habits we’ve introduced into our lives. All totally understandable as we deal with the changes that the last 20 plus months have delivered.
In terms of managing anxiety and keeping calm at this time, here’s my suggested checklist for negotiating a gentle re-entry into the world.
Take it slowly
Some people will dash out of lockdown and throw themselves fully into the world. Others will want to take things more slowly. There is no right or wrong way to go about coming out of lockdown. It is worth remembering that over this time you haven’t been on a break or a holiday – you have just been working at home, or negotiating working outside the home in a heightened unsafe environment, and juggling the many demands, priorities and stressors on your time.
There is no need to rush into everything. So take it slowly and set your own pace about your re-entry. Take as much time as you need to settle into your new routines.
Set your boundaries
Boundaries are an important aspect of re-entry as we negotiate re-engaging with extended family, friends, work colleagues, and people in general. Only you can know what is best for you and how to maintain your feelings of emotional, spiritual and physical safety and security. Trust yourself and your intuition around what you need at this time. Practice saying no if need be. And keep wearing your mask if that makes you feel safe. Stay strong and true to yourself.
Negotiate your re-entry into the office
Many of us have been able to work from home over lockdown and enjoyed the autonomy and flexibility this has delivered. With more people being fully vaccinated, employers are now asking employees to return to the office. Many are not looking forward to such a return, to old work routines and long commutes, and extended time away from family. For some this is causing stress and anxiety. Research in the United States highlighted that one in three respondents found that returning to work had a negative impact on their mental health (McKinsey survey 2021).
Overall, people have been working productively in remote work situations in lockdown. If possible, have the conversation with your manager about how to best return to work in the office. Discuss the available options for a flexible re-entry and hybrid work environment that will maintain your efficiency, and help you want to stay in your job as a valued employee going forward.
Look after your health
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of maintaining our health and wellbeing. Over lockdown, you might have implemented improved well-being regimes of regular exercise, better-quality eating and nourishing food plans, regular yoga and meditation, and healthy sleep patterns.
My recommendation: don’t drop your bundle in this area now as coming back into our ‘new normal’ will require us to be fit and healthy, patient and in-tune with our feelings – in short, to be taking good care of ourselves.
Share your feelings
We’ve had many common reactions and experiences over lockdown. For some time now, the pandemic has been the focus of our conversations. One thing that has helped us all get through has been talking to family and friends about our feelings, sharing our experiences and survival strategies, laughing or crying as necessary, checking in on each other’s mental state.
Keep the check-ins, sharing, and conversations going. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or others you know need support.
Additional resources from the Black Dog Institute to assist you with your re-entry: