Lifting Lockdown Anxiety

Do you have lifting lockdown anxiety? Are you feeling anxious about the end of Covid restrictions? Given what we have endured this last 18 months, it is understandable if you are. In this blog I endeavour to consider the impact of this existential crisis and why we might struggle in our return to freedom. The American Existential psychiatrist and author Irvin D. Yalom suggests there are four main existential issues in life. These he calls ‘ultimate concerns’ or ‘givens of existence’ and he describes them as being, ‘an inescapable part’ of being alive. They are; death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. Each of us are confronted and wrestle with these concerns to a greater or lesser extent throughout our lives and issues can arise from them that can lead us to seek therapy or act out in our behaviours either consciously or unconsciously. Coming to terms with these concerns, at the best of times, is a challenging process but throw a pandemic into the mix and that highlights them in exceptionally unusual ways. It is my view that the pandemic has caused us to have an existential crisis because all of these concerns have been brought to the forefront like never before, with the different facets of each concern activated at various stages. Normally, one might consider or be struggling with one particular concern, but with the pandemic I believe all four have been thrust into prominence by the very nature of what we’ve gone through.

For many, the end of the road map after a year of lockdowns and restrictions, will come as a welcome burst of freedom. A sense of humanity and normality that has been greatly lacking. For others, it might not feel quite so simple or welcome. The stunted sense of personal agency of this period will take time to shake off after so many restrictions being placed on us. After being terrorised by the fear of the virus and the impact on the world some people may feel too scared to go out and instilled with paranoia. Many will consider continuing to live an isolated life and be careful where they go. Some may have lost their confidence. With these realities in mind, as society unlocks, it is important to reintegrate gently. Freedom, as a concern, can evoke feelings of anxiety and overwhelm as well as joy and optimism. The sense of limitlessness and the responsibility of choice, the world being your oyster, make freedom a huge cause for anxiety, pressure and fear in the same way that confinement and restrictions can. There is, I believe, the potential for a heightened sense of anxiety, confusion and disorientation as we unlock and reintegrate with society again after such a period of stasis.

I am curious to consider how people adapted in lockdown and the ‘new normal’ that many developed in their routines and outlook on life and how the unlocking may, for some, be met with trepidation and a reluctance to go back to how things were.  As I write, my mind is cast back to going for my hour of exercise during the first lockdown and noticing how nature responded to humanity stopping. Nature thrived without all the interference, traffic, pollution and noise. There was space to deeply feel our sense of existence and notice the world around us and what we share it with, aside from humanity. I loved the universal simplicity of our new routines and that sense of nature repairing from the endless damage inflicted by humankind. There was something special about that unique opportunity to stop and notice the little things. The lack of distractions, the sense of stillness, the peace, and adjusting to a set of restrictions that practically every other person in the world was doing at the same time. Aligning to a slower pace of life, being more aware, for example, of where the sun shines at home at any given time of day and of the hum and rhythm of the natural world. The simplicity allowed time to stop and appreciate everything around us and find ways of coping and sometimes even thriving in the safety of the bubble.

I was struck by the paradox of social distancing, isolation, support bubbles, face masks etc etc juxtaposed with a sense of unity that everyone in the world was having to adapt to the same unique set of restrictions. That unity, I believe, was more powerful than we realise. In an age of consumerism and social media aspiration and the like, it was so relieving to have a break from the endless striving, the fear of missing out, and the expectations and pressures that are normally omni-present because the emphasis was on surviving which lowers the expectation enormously. This, I believe, is where happiness has a chance to shine because gratitude at surviving through difficult times and finding simple pleasures was enough and all the while without being subjected to everyone else’s busy and wonderful lives detailing how much they’re doing and achieving! This has certainly been the age of the introvert, a time where they have truly come into their own and realised their own power.

This leads me to the point of this blog post. I felt I wanted to write for those who may feel conflicted about going ‘back to normal’, anxious about adjusting again. My thoughts are with those who might not want to give up all they’ve acquired in their pandemic survival and, for some, the confidence that may have grown out of it. The new routines, the space for introspection, the simpler and quieter lifestyle, the changed outlook on life on what is important and what isn’t. What we’ve collectively gone through is a reappraisal of our existence. We have been forced into looking at ourselves, our habits, our beliefs, our behaviours in the wake of  a world the stopped still. In the face of the limitations placed on our lives, we were left with far less distractions, a slower pace and we adapted without all of the usual crutches and avoidance that filled our time. For many this was terrifying and challenging. For others it felt like coming home and it was a chance to get back to basics and come to terms with our own existence in ways we’ve never done before. There was a sense of trying new ways, forming a new blueprint. The very sense of surviving and diversifying could well have brought out a surge in personal confidence and empowerment.

So, as things open up, as restrictions ease, and the engine of society starts ramping up again, hold onto your sense of self and what is right for you. Be kind to yourself as we readjust yet again. Stay connected to a pace that suits you and if you don’t want to scream back into the shops, the pubs, the restaurants, the gatherings, the big events and you feel anxious about saying yes to social occasions and feel uneasy about leaving the safety bubble, then that is really OK and very understandable. Give yourself time and permission to adjust. Time to work out what you want to keep from the survival kit and what you want to go back to pre-lockdowns. There might be a mix of the two and it’s about being mindful in how you go about reacquainting with an unlocked society whilst holding onto a sense of self and personal learnings from lockdown. Many lessons have been learnt and it’s important to remember the old ways aren’t necessarily the best ways.

For more information on ways to help you manage with lifting lockdown anxiety check out some useful tips from the following links:,

https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/coronavirus/tips-to-cope-with-anxiety-lockdown-lifting/

https://www.iesohealth.com/en-gb/blog/how-to-cope-with-heightened-levels-of-anxiety-in-the-context-of-the-lifting-of-restrictions

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