Water the pot plants & leave the washing up: post-lockdown stress and anxiety
Updated: Mar 8
A supplementary blog in response to the government’s ‘Roadmap’ for leaving lockdown
We’ve been bombarded with headlines about vaccines, falling contagion rates and lifting lockdown. For many, this will feel hopeful; we can see friends, play sports and visit social spaces - all things we've been denied for so long. However, in the same way Covid-19 affected people differently, according to their employment, health status, mental health, support network and socio-economic security, the easing of lockdown will be experienced differently too.
A person living with a long term health condition may feel lockdown was an extension of everyday life, and it lifting will feel like the rest of the world is leaving them behind. Others will have had their lives permanently altered through illness or bereavement, the world will never look the same again. Alternatively, after a year of adjusting to a new lockdown routine, coming out of it may be enough to make you feel nervous or unready.
Uncertainty of the future
Uncertainty is something that many of us struggle with. Particularly if you are trying to manage your mental health alongside everyday responsibilities, like family, work, housing or relationships.
You can only do the best with what you’ve got right now. Try to focus on today, simply planning the next 12 hours is enough. Finding what you can control, whether it's preparing meals, checking in on family or adhering to a care plan - it is enough. Over time this will build into your new post lockdown routine.
Post lockdown could feel like it’s full of ‘what-if's’, and lead you to doubt your ability to cope. Don’t rush into social situations, if you feel anxiety rising remember to pace yourself. You don’t need to do everything at once. You were surviving before lockdown, you got through it and you will survive this, give yourself time to adjust.
FOMO vs Social anxiety
It's natural that lifting lockdown will mean people want to enjoy their new freedom. From meeting in large groups to summer BBQs to booking tables in pubs or restaurants. It may feel like social activity is all around us and we need to take advantage of it to make up for lost time. It is important to notice when fear of missing out (FOMO) is leading to burn out. For each person, this will be different. As you ease into being more social, make sure to notice how you feel; are situations overwhelming? What do you need to do to feel calm? Ask yourself, how many social activities can you do in a week before feeling exhausted?
If you have social anxiety try creating a ‘tool box’ of things that can ‘turn down’ the anxiety in your head. Breathing exercises and self-massage can be really helpful. Prepare for social interactions. Decide how you want to greet someone, (do you maintain social distancing, do you hug, shake hands, high-five?) and remember to start small. Ask a trusted friend to help you practice socialising by meeting for a walk or a bike ride.
If you start to become overwhelmed or feel a panic attack coming on, use your senses to ground yourself. Carry a favourite photograph or a smell (perfume or essential oil) with you that grounds you. You could also try strong tastes (I’ve often recommended Fishermen’s Friends lozenges, they are… ‘powerful’ to say the least!). Listening to songs or stroking fluffy toys can also help.
However you choose to be social in the coming months, talk to your friends and family about what you need from them. You could even try creating a list of things you need to support yourself and share it with a trusted friend or family member.
Many workplaces are likely to be more flexible as we return. If you find it hard to get to work or do particular work activities because of anxiety or stress, talk to a manager or HR and ask them what they can do to support you. If you have a long term mental health problem, you may be entitled to reasonable adjustments as a disabled person under the Equality Act, even if you haven’t disclosed up until now. If you want to explore a diagnosis, make an appointment to speak to your GP. You can also take an NHS depression and anxiety self-assessment quiz to try and get clarity on how you're feeling.
If you have suffered a bereavement, it may feel like your grief has been put on hold and the thought of coming out of lockdown without a loved one is unbearable. Do not try and do everything at once, reconnect with the world at your own time, set small targets and ask for help when you need it. You will not be alone in your feelings and I encourage you to reach out for support. The NHS website is a good place to start looking for services and help. Grief support NHS
Water the pot plants, leave the washing up
The pandemic and lockdown are unprecedented. You have survived a unique and terrible time in history, it is important to remember that. It will be tempting to compare yourself to other people. Those who appear to 'have it worse’ or those who appear to be coming out of lockdown easily. I want to encourage you to give yourself a break. Don’t let critical inner voices, ‘what-ifs’ or any pressure internally or externally make you feel you’re coming out of lockdown the wrong way. Some days the sun will shine, you’ll be in short sleeves and you will want to embrace the world, others it might be a struggle to get out of bed. Take each day at your own pace, if all you can do is water the pot plants and leave the washing up for later, so be it. Connect to the world at your own speed and on your terms, it will be there waiting for you.
I have updated my website with a list of brilliant and inspiring mental health support charities and organisations. Some offer support 24/7 and you can contact now. Others have resources or groups you can use or join.
I have tried to include organisations that specifically support groups of people the psychology world has overlooked, over-diagnosed or oppressed. If you are, or know of, any other mental health collectives/charities/organisations that I should be signposting to, get in contact