COPING WITH LIFE AFTER LOCKDOWN – Dr Natalie Shavit, Clinical Psychologist

Finally, after four months in lockdown, most restrictions have been lifted and we are able to venture out.

For many of us, this is what we have been waiting for, and so it can be confronting to realise that a return to “COVID normal” isn’t always quite the relief that we have been anticipating.

There were in fact many benefits associated with being in the cocoon (traffic, anyone?), particularly for those with symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. The restrictions were permission not to have to leave our comfort zone and deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life.

In order to not feel overwhelmed with this return to fuller schedules and for some a return to life and work outside home, there are some strategies you can use to help manage life after lockdown. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these aren’t actually so different to those recommended over the past several months.

1. Be in charge of your time

This means maintaining a sense of agency and control over your time wherever possible. Whether it is not overscheduling, not overcommitting to social situations, it is still critical to ensure a work/life balance which includes time for self-care, relaxing and pleasurable activities.

2. Give yourself permission to ease back in and and/or to opt out

A period of not being social with more than one person outside the home has led to some of us not having our usual social stamina, leaving social skills a bit rusty. Give yourself the latitude to ease back into being among friends and meeting new people so as not to be overwhelmed, which includes not feeling pressured to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity.

3. Stay active

As during lockdown, exercising, or being active regularly, is a great way to focus on our physical and psychological selves, so incorporating this into our regimens is always critical.

4. Use your supports

Talk with the people around you who are supports, such as understanding family members and friends Not only might they empathise, they may also feel comfort in having their own experiences and feelings validated.

5. Avoid bad habits

Not relying on alcohol or other drugs is essential, especially not to try and compensate for any feelings of awkwardness about being back in the world or back in the pub, because these add rather than take away problems in the long term and don’t allow for social muscles to be built back up or be acquired in the first place.

6. Be kind to yourself

This does not change regardless of the restrictions’ status. Self-compassion is always vital, trying not to be too hard on ourselves given the current freedoms, cutting ourselves a break if we’re not meeting our usual standards or expectations. It takes time to adjust to change and you may not be in the same space you were when the lockdown started. We all change over time and it is ok to recognise that maybe you were impacted by the stress of recent times.

If you’re trying to put all these strategies into place and still feel impacted by feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, help is available. This means talking with mental health professionals such as psychologists, who can help get you back on track.

This has been a stressful time regardless of how much or how little the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us. It has brought a great deal of change. But change does not have to be bad. As it has been said, out of crisis comes opportunity. Make the changes count!