We share simple practices to help you manage adjusting to life after lockdown

With the prospect of schools opening their doors soon and retail stores welcoming shoppers from 15 June, the lockdown cloud is slowly starting to shift. And whilst many are eager to feel a sense of normality again, the prospect of a ‘new normal’ may bring some new anxieties.

‘Re-entry anxiety’, a specific form of stress related to the fear of being unable to adapt to previously established routines, or not wanting to, in this case, is the fear of trying to establish, and be comfortable in, our old lives before the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing measures. Lockdown has created a safe bubble for me (my home) in which myself and my partner exist safely, and the threat of bursting that bubble makes me nervous.

People experience re-entry anxiety over a number of things, for example car accidents, which leaves the victims unwilling to get back into a car as their association with the vehicle is negative. And whether you unfortunately caught this virus or not, you can still identify with this anxiety around returning to normal, which for the past eight weeks we have been denied, as the 'normal' caused the risk to grow.

“But we must remember that not one of us has lived through a pandemic in our lifetimes, and re-entry is inevitable, but it can be at your own pace."

I’m comforted to know that I’m not alone in this fear either. A recent poll by Ipsos MORI found that 67% of British people feel uncomfortable about attending large public gatherings, music and sporting events, compared to how they felt before the virus, and three in five Brits are sceptical of going to bars and restaurants or using public transport again.

I haven’t ventured far; the weekly supermarket shop or the odd trip to Homebase has been my limit, but as soon as I see the front of the shop, there is a noticeable tightening of my chest. I am on high alert for anyone within a two metre radius, and I can recognise that lockdown and the easing of it, has triggered some previous anxious habits I thought I had under control.

Counsellor and supervisor Beverley Hills, explains that not all of us are able to embrace change. “Some people find the thought of a ‘new normal’ terrifying and the fear of the unknown looms large, often threatening to overwhelm; our creative brain imagines all sorts but unless we have superpowers none of us can predict the future.”

But we must remember that not one of us has lived through a pandemic in our lifetimes, and re-entry is inevitable, but it can be at your own pace. Whilst I may be yearning for my previous life, I’m taking things slow. Here’s how you can prepare yourself for re-entry and manage your anxiety around doing so.

How to support yourself with re-entry anxiety

Take each day at your own pace

Although measures may loosen in the coming weeks, if possible, you don’t have to jump straight back into your old routine. If leaving the house on foot is the only method you’re comfortable with, stick with it, but try and go a little further each day. Perhaps introduce a break on a bench for five minutes, and learn to be comfortable in others’ presence - responsibly of course.

If your office reopens, but you can still work from home, build up your attendance in the office so you slowly re-establish a routine that’s comfortable for you.

If you have no control over when you return to work, have some measures in place that allow you to be as comfortable as possible that you can detail to your employer. Whether that’s anxiety over returning to work, or catching the virus, talking is a great tool to move forward.

Plan ahead

Things may not turn out as you had planned, so try and prepare yourself for this. You might find you struggle with mood swings and a feeling of unease, so find a comfortable place in your house that you feel totally at ease in, and spend five minutes there, practising some simple breathing exercises to create a sense of calm.

Perhaps you have struggled with panic attacks in the past and are nervous that the attacks may return as the future is uncertain. Practice 10 minutes of mindfulness a day, tuning into all of your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, touch and taste? When you feel an attack coming on, try and tap into this practice, feel your feet on the ground and know that you are safe and grounded.

Beverley says,“Take a moment and do what we call Socratic Questioning. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen, what’s the best that can happen and what’s the most likely thing to happen? That way you can be prepared for all eventualities without going down the rabbit hole of rumination, which as we all know leads nowhere.

"Remember, your anxious thoughts won’t stop things happening, they will however ensure you get upset. Pace yourself, take things slowly, what's the rush? A good idea is to talk to counsellor who can help you learn how to manage your anxieties in a healthier way."

Try alternative practice

Holistic therapy can be a viable option to support you through re-entry anxiety. With a variety of different practices to choose from, crystal healing in particular can be effective as its grounding and energy absorbing qualities can help evoke the energy you need, to quell your anxieties.

You can try working self-massage into your daily routine. A simple practice with powerful benefits, the power of touch can physically relax you, ground you in the here and now and it gives you the opportunity to slow down and acknowledge how you’re feeling.

How to broach the subject of re-entry anxiety over a young relative returning to school

The thought of my three-year-old niece returning to her nursery next week makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel helpless. But is it my place to voice my concerns?

This is tricky. With the fear of sounding like a judgemental auntie and potentially damaging my relationship with my brother, I didn’t know how to broach the subject with him. So instead I looked at the facts regarding the virus and children, I spoke to colleagues who had children and discovered how they were managing to send their children back to school.

As I’m not a parent, I didn’t understand the measures put in place by each school for the protection of staff and children, nor did I understand how the virus has affected the area my brother lives in. So I did speak to my brother purely to understand how the nursery would move forward with protecting against the virus and this put my worries at ease. I have to remember that my brother knows his child best and will have taken all precaution to do what’s right for her.

In this instance, knowledge is key and engaging in supportive conversations is paramount.

How to support young children returning to school

Children returning to school may also be struggling with anxiety and fear, similar to that feeling of first starting school. It’s difficult for a child to fully understand lockdown, alongside re-introducing a normal routine that is still restricted. Clinical hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner Les Roberts explains in her article, ‘Helping children with anxieties and stresses during the pandemic’, how you can support a child struggling to make sense of the pandemic.

She says, “It’s important to talk to your children about what’s happening. Be open and explain the situation as well as you can. Talk to them about their feelings, anxieties, what can you do to make them feel better, help them find solutions, offer alternative things to do to take their minds away from whatever is causing them to feel anxious. Reassure them all will be ok, and you understand what they are going through. Be mindful what you discuss/talk about within earshot of children. ”

If you’re struggling with re-entry anxiety for yourself or for others, try not to put too much pressure on yourself, and take control of the things that are in reach. If you need to talk, Samaritans offer a free, confidential listening service available 24/7 on 116 123 or you can reach out to a qualified counsellor via Counselling Directory.

Whatever the new normal will be, you will adapt, and you will find comfort in the knowledge that you could.