Post-Lockdown Anxiety

It has been a very unusual time for everyone where life as we know it changed drastically due to the COVID-19 lock down period. At first it may have seemed daunting at the thought of being constrained to your house for months, but with everything going on outside, it quickly became a safe place to be. Now that restrictions are starting to lift, some people are apprehensive about life outside again.

After spending a long period of time at home, it’s normal to be feeling some anxiety about leaving lockdown. For some, the easing of restrictions can bring about a sense of ‘lockdown relief,’ but for others it may raise some concerns about safety. Furthermore, the anxiety of emerging to life as normal again may not be a reality for those who have lost jobs or taken pay cuts, which may trigger fears of social evaluation by others.

The idea of getting back to normality again can trigger a number of emotions such as joy, excitement, confusion, fear, anxiety or panic, or perhaps all of these at once. How you go about getting back to ‘pre-COVID’ activities will be different for everyone. One of the most important aspects to the transition will be planning to cope with mental health. Fears around the use of public spaces, using public transport and attending social events again can trigger a myriad of emotions, but as the ease of restrictions start to lift, everyone has the right to make their own decisions as to how they wish to return to life outside the home.

For someone living with social anxiety, being at home a lot may have found some sense of relief by the reduced number of social gatherings, but as restrictions start to lift, you might be feeling triggered by the thought of having to re-familiarise yourself again with public and social aspects that have been avoided for some months now. It’s important to remind yourself that you are able to do everything at your own pace and that by easing yourself back into the activities you were doing before may take some time to achieve. Being invited to a dinner, or a small get-together doesn’t mean you have to attend. You might need some time to feel comfortable again in these situations and that’s OK.

If you’re a highly anxious person, it might be helpful to proceed back into normal life slowly. Start by reintroducing yourself back into public places that you feel comfortable in and build upon visiting various places at your own pace. Be mindful of your limitations and boundaries and ensuring that you’re allowing yourself to be patient with the re-adjustment period. In the case that you do find yourself becoming anxious, some of the following tips might be helpful in overcoming symptoms of anxiety:

1. Breathing
Sometimes when you’re anxious, you actually forget to breath properly. Most people aren’t really conscious of the way they’re breathing, but generally, there are two types of breathing patterns:

• Thoracic (chest) breathing
• Diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing

Take a moment to notice your breathing; is it short and shallow from the chest? This is Thoracic breathing. You may not even be aware you’re doing this but it could be contributing to your anxiety because chest breathing causes an upset to oxygen and carbon dioxide levels resulting in increased heart rate, dizziness, and other physical sensations.
The next time you’re feeling anxious, try Diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing.
1. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Your abdomen should expand, and your chest should rise very little.
2. Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly, but keep your jaw relaxed. You may hear a soft “whooshing” sound as you exhale.
This can be repeated as many times as necessary and can be achieved standing up, sitting or lying down.

2. Exercise
Exercise stimulates endorphins and endorphins make us “feel good.” Getting the body moving in any capacity can help to decrease tension in the body, which may be contributing to anxiety. Studies have shown that one vigorous exercise can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time. But while vigorous exercise isn’t for everyone, particularly when feeling under pressure, Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety suggested that even a 10-minute walk could be effective in alleviating symptoms.

3. Reduce Caffeine Intake
The love for coffee in Australia is so strong that it might be difficult to hear it may be contributing to your anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can increase your “fight or flight” response, where your body is responding to situations that you perceive as being worrisome or threatening. Caffeine can trigger this response, making you overreact to situations that aren’t actually dangerous. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, it may be a good time to check your daily caffeine intake and consider some alternatives. If cutting out caffeine altogether is not feasible on your functioning, try to learn and track your habits and try reducing consumption in small ways over time.

4. Find your meditation
The reason I say find “your” meditation is because everyone is different. While one person may find yoga to be meditative, another may find reading a book to be just as effective. When searching for your outlet, find something that helps you to relax. If going to a meditation class is not an ideal scenario for you just yet, finding something that you can enjoy on your own or with a friend might be more practical. Try to build your toolbox of meditative outlets that you can utilise when your anxiety is heightened based on the limitations of the use of public places and spaces. These can be added to your regular self-care regime to begin your prevention plan for anxiety in the future.

5. Use positive self-talk
Positive self-talk can be very powerful in combatting anxiety. During times when Anxiety is present, can often lead to very negative thoughts. Perhaps this is a good time to let you know just how powerful your mind is. Experts estimate that the mind comes up with 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day – amazing right? But when anxiety is prevalent, the mind is very good at listening to the negative chatter, which can be quite unhelpful. Thankfully, we have a choice whether to listen to the negative thoughts or increase the positive ones. Using positive affirmations are a good place to start to remember what you are capable of. Here are some examples:
1. “I can take things one step at a time,”
2. “Anxiety does not define me”
3. “I am in control”
4. “I’ve made it through this before, I can do it again.”
5. “This is only temporary,”

We as humans are very adaptable and as quickly as we adapted to life inside the house, we will very quickly re-adapt to life outside again, but this may take some time to achieve. Having the right supports in place will be very important to ensuring your mental health needs are met during this transition. The use of telehealth is a great option to talk to a professional if your anxiety becomes unmanageable.

By Phillipa Brown (Psychologist at MeHelp)