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How to cope with anxiety about the roadmap out of lockdown

After what has felt like the longest and most challenging lockdown yet, Boris Johnson is set to reveal how we’re getting out of this.

The government is finally going to outline the roadmap out of lockdown, with the first few steps towards easing the restrictions that have dominated our lives for weeks.

Speculation suggests we could get answers about schools, hospitality and non-essential shops opening, and answers on when we might be able to meet up with more people.

This should be good news. A possible light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. So, why are we all feeling so anxious about what comes next?

For some, it’s the uncertainty. The fear of getting your hopes up only to find yourself back in the same place. After so many ups and downs, people are struggling to feel optimistic right now.

James, 27 and living in London, says he doesn’t trust anything positive – he says he has been burnt before by feeling overly hopeful, so this time he just feels worried.

‘Loads of my friends keep talking about this announcement like it’s going to be the end of lockdown, like we are just suddenly going to be back to normal, but I can’t let myself think like that,’ James tells Metro.co.uk.

‘I feel more stressed and worried now than I have at any point during the whole pandemic. I know there are reasons to feel hopeful – the vaccine, the improving weather – but there is a big part of me that just thinks we will hit another set back.

‘The stress of the unknown is just horrible, to be honest. That’s why I feel so anxious, because I just don’t know how this announcement is going to go.’

Dr Nick Earley is head of psychology at Helix Resilience. He says that a lack of clarity is one of the biggest threats to mental health at the moment, so it’s no surprise that James and many like him are feeling on-edge right now.

‘Although certainties are unavailable, having clarity on how much longer current restrictions could last and a timeline for when people can expect to spend time with loved ones, visit gyms, or return to a place of work is a significant relief for many,’ says Dr Nick.

‘Just as there are people who can’t wait to exit lockdown, there are others who will be filled with dread and anxiety at the prospect.

‘Fear of the virus has likely heightened the anxiety felt by many, so it is important to encourage open conversations on the concerns that friends, family, colleagues or employees may be feeling as we begin our journey out of this pandemic.’

Ella, 33 from Leeds, is feeling anxious about the possible return to normality. She says the thought of going back to her old life overnight feels overwhelming, and she isn’t sure how she will cope with the increased pace of life.

‘Lockdown is obviously so rubbish, but I have kind of become used to it in a weird way. At least it is familiar at this point. Our lives have been so stressful and disrupted for so long – the thought of more change fills me with dread,’ says Ella.

‘Also, I have started experiencing panic and anxiety since the start of the pandemic. I just think that going back to socialising and commuting and being in the office will make all of that worse for me.

‘So, I’m so conflicted – I want to hear about positive steps out of lockdown, but I’m also nervous about being thrust back into my life. I’m not sure I feel ready.’

Dr Nick, says it’s really important to understand that it is normal to feel this way. Everyone will have a different reaction to the roadmap announcement, and no matter how you feel, there are strategies to help you cope.

‘The events of the last year have resulted in sudden and unexpected changes to how we live our lives, causing increased stress and worry for many of us,’ Dr Nick tells Metro.co.uk.

‘The uncertainty around lockdown has meant that, for many, announcements like today’s will be a major trigger for anxiety. Spotting the early signs of stress and worry and taking a preventative approach to stopping the anxiety before it takes hold is key.’ 

Dr Nick says this might mean temporarily removing access to news and social media apps on your phone so that you can take a step away from the noise and focus on self-care.

‘You may think that closely following the news gives you reassurance, but when the news is bad or not what we’d hoped to see it can cause more distress,’ he adds.    

‘The more aware you become of negative thought patterns and their triggers, the better you can manage your reactions. When you catch yourself entering a negative thought process, do something positive to distract yourself, such as reading a book or taking exercise.’ 

How can you cope with announcement disappointment 

If you are one of those people who have got their hopes up about getting out of lockdown sooner, the reality might not quite meet up with your expectations.

So, if the latest news leaves you feeling disappointed, it’s important to recognise those feelings and take extra steps to look after your mental wellbeing.

‘Those experiencing disappointment and other negative feelings including loneliness, isolation and demotivation at the thought of a prolonged return to normality, should focus on permitted activities, hobbies and social interactions,’ suggests Dr Nick. 

‘These can help us feel more positive by improving our mood and providing a greater sense of achievement, even if they’re taking place virtually.’  

He also suggests setting a physical activity goal for each day, even if it’s just a 15-minute walk.

‘This can help us to feel more positive,’ he adds. ‘If the hobbies that have been getting you through lockdown are no longer helping, try to take up a new hobby or interest with a friend or family member and ensure you keep each other motivated.

‘Whether you set up a book club or a Saturday morning virtual yoga practice, you will feel a sense of ‘togetherness’ and give yourself something to look forward to.’ 

Every stage of lockdown is a new hurdle for all of us. If you’re not feeling excited or positive about the potential easing of the restrictions – that is completely understandable, and you are not alone.

There is still so much uncertainty, and clearly a long road ahead – even with the vaccine roll-out going well – so don’t put pressure on yourself to feel any kind of way about the roadmap out of lockdown.

If it is getting too much, like Dr Nick says, take a step back from news and social media. Limit your information consumption to ensure you don’t become overwhelmed.

And keep focusing on self-care. Whether that means lying on the sofa under a duvet for an entire day, or distracting yourself with wholesome hobbies. It’s time to engage with your well-worn coping strategies to get you through this next stage.

Need support? Contact the Samaritans

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

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