Everything you need to know about post-lockdown anxiety (and how to overcome reverse culture shock)

As a generation, we’ve never been so anxious—and then along came coronavirus. From the moment the pandemic took hold and businesses around the world shut down, occupational burnout was replaced with fears over job security and financial stability. Instead of social anxiety, we were now dealing with loneliness and concern for the safety of loved ones. 

Meanwhile, as many of us were forced into isolation, our usual FOMO gave way to anxieties over social distancing, getting ill and a general unease about the future.

But as various lockdown measures start to lift across the world, we’re seeing increased reports of a new kind of anxiety: ‘post-lockdown anxiety’ as it was recently dubbed by mental-health charity Anxiety UK. “[It’s] the fear or worry of returning to normal life and leaving lockdown,” says Samuel Ledger of Anxiety UK. “This can develop from many places, the most common we tend to see seems to originate from health worries or a fear of the unknown. It can range from a worry of being in public spaces to a fear of leaving the house in general.”

For most of us, lockdown has been disruptive at best, but by now we’re somewhat used to it—the new normal, so to speak. For others, having the opportunity to opt out of all the pressures of the outside world has actually come as a welcome relief. With more time to sleep, read, and reflect, some people with pre-existing mental health conditions are even seeing their moods improve—which is why the idea of ending lockdown is so jarring.

What will life after lockdown look like? How easy will it be to adjust to? How can we ensure that we’ll be safe? These anxieties are totally normal. It’s when this anxiety starts to interfere with your everyday life that it becomes a cause for concern. From issues with sleeping to fears over leaving the house, we spoke to leading hypnotherapist and phobia expert Adam Cox about how to spot post-lockdown anxiety and how to overcome it.

What would you define as post-lockdown anxiety?

“Post-lockdown anxiety was recently discussed by Anxiety UK, describing anxiety linked to life once lockdown rules have been eased. Although many people have been inconvenienced by lockdown rules, it’s the nature of humans to adapt and adjust. Since we’ve adjusted to lockdown living, there can be anxiety experienced by some as to what life will be like when there is no lockdown. Since there are many unknown possibilities, it can cause people to worry or catastrophise about the future.”

How do you know when you’re experiencing post-lockdown anxiety?

“Some of the top signs to look out for include: recurring thoughts or worries about the future, feeling unsettled or tense, issues with sleeping, constantly checking the news or social media about Covid-19 or lockdown rules, and in extreme cases, possible panic attacks.”

Can anxiety over returning to the outside world be beneficial? Where does being cautious end and prohibitively anxious begin?

“Some fear and anxiety is useful as it prevents us from being reckless and irresponsible. Having healthy anxiety could encourage social distancing, for example. Too much anxiety can cause mental health issues and lead to unhelpful coping strategies such as avoidance, drinking, drugs, over-eating and self-medication. Because anxiety is an unpleasant feeling, many people will resort to things to consume to change their emotional state. In extreme cases, it could cause agoraphobia, where people may wish to avoid going outside and effectively turn lockdown into their new normal way of living.”

So is post-lockdown anxiety something to be afraid of?

“When I work with clients, I remind them that all anxiety is temporary—and that in every case they’ve fought anxiety, they’ve still survived. So appreciating that it’s temporary is helpful. Also, it’s useful to know that anxiety often comes from unconscious thinking strategies and these can change. I used to suffer from such intense anxiety that I wouldn’t leave my flat, and now I help others cure lifelong phobias in a single session—I know anxiety can be defeated.”

What are the ways in which we can help manage this anxiety?

“Take one day at a time; don’t try and think about what it will be like for the next few months, just focus on today and tomorrow, as it won’t be so overwhelming. Accept that there are things you can’t control and many that you can; you can’t control the lockdown lifting, but you can control how much news you consume and how much time you give to thinking about a post-lockdown life. Focus on positive coping strategies such as exercise, meditation, walking outside and fresh air rather than food, drink or smoking. Monitor your inner dialogue; are your thoughts helpful or are they contributing to your feelings of anxiety?

With so many of us discussing things like post-lockdown anxiety, how do you think the global conversation about anxiety, in general, will change post-lockdown?

“It’s the fear of the potential consequences of Covid-19 that prompted global lockdown rules in the first place, so in an ideal world, there will be new-found respect for the genuineness of anxiety as a condition. If anxiety shut down the world, then, of course, it can impact an individual. Hopefully, there will be a deeper level of empathy when it comes to anxiety and all mental health issues.”

This story was first published by Vogue.co.uk.

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