The UK has been in and out of varying levels of lockdown for almost a year, as the world continues to get to grips with the Covid-19 virus and ensuing global pandemic.
As the vaccination programme rolls out across the country, the latest round of coronavirus announcements set out a timeline for current lockdown restrictions to be lifted. While some may be excited, others may be filled with anxiety at the prospect of returning to “normal life”. And, of course, it’s understandable to feel both of these emotions at the same time.
Returning to work, seeing family and friends, being around large groups of people - many of us have been unable to do these things for the best part of a year, and the thought of returning to pre-pandemic life can be daunting.
‘Anxiety levels have increased’
Professor Gillon explains that, for most of us, intermittent bouts of anxiety are normal throughout our lives. However, when anxiety becomes extreme and a regular feature in our day to day life, it can become debilitating.
“Since March last year, anxiety levels amongst all age groups in the UK have generally increased and as a result have seen people resorting to habits that are perhaps not so healthy - poor eating and sleeping habits to name only two,” he says.
So what can we do to manage our anxiety?
‘Take it a day at a time’
The professor says: “How do those of us who have suffered, sometimes quite debilitating anxiety levels, cope with getting close to the ‘normal’ way of life we once knew?
“The answer is, taking it one moment and a day at a time.”
Professor Gillon explains that coming out of the latest lockdown will not just simply happen overnight - there will be an adjustment period which will allow us to recalibrate ourselves and our daily routines.
“We may be anxious about having to return to work, or seeing people in more crowded environments,” he says.
“We may be more conscious of picking up germs, or the transmission of illness just by talking to more people, or gathering in indoor environments.
“Some of us may be afraid to even go out or consider using public transport without feeling at risk or a feeling of dread.”
However, the professor says that this feeling is “an absolutely normal response” and that “everyone will feel this to a great or lesser degree”, so it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in your feelings.
“It’s about how much we let this control our thoughts and actions that is key,” he adds.
‘Facing our fears can be daunting’
It can be easy to let the anxiety take over our lives, but there are ways that you can tackle these feelings.
Professor Gillon says: “Facing our fears can be daunting and it can feel as though it’s taking a great deal of courage and energy.
“However, a strategy of breaking these fears down and tackling them one by one, taking reasonable measures on the way to combat them becoming a reality, then congratulating yourself for each hurdle achieved will help you gain more confidence and be able to gain some renewed perspective.”
He says that you should “consider all the elements of your day that may cause anxiety and which of those you can control and how you might go about this”.
‘Soon these feelings will disappear’
It’s important to be able to identify specific triggers that could be making your anxiety worse, and figuring out how to handle those situations.
For example, the professor says: “Give yourself extra time to commute, don’t get a very busy bus if you can wait for the next one which might be less busy or consider walking, cycling or car sharing to work if that’s a possibility. Exercise is proven to help combat anxious feelings.
“Ask your employer to support your concerns and ensure your work space makes you feel relaxed and safe.
“Consider how you will approach lunchtime. Rather than going into a busy sandwich shop, take your lunch into work with you.
“As you address each situation that gives rise to anxious feelings you will gain confidence and resilience in tackling the next and soon these feelings will lessen and disappear.”
‘We all have a huge journey ahead’
Each and every one of us will have our own fears and concerns as we come out of lockdown, but we can support each other through the process.
Professor Gillon says: “We all have a huge journey to take coming out of lockdown and must approach it in a way that suits our own needs and fears.
“Talk to those around you about some of your concerns. You’re likely to find solace and relief in knowing that others are feeling exactly the same.
“You can even share ideas on how best to tackle each hurdle.
“If your anxiety doesn’t lift after implementing some of these approaches, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a professional therapist or psychologist to talk things through.”
Mental health resources
If you are (or someone you know is) struggling with mental health issues, you can access a full list of NHS recommended helplines.
These mental health charities, organisations and support groups can offer expert advice for those who are having difficulties with their mental health.
Some useful phone numbers include:
- Samaritans: confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Free 24-hour helpline, 116 123
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably): a charity providing mental health helpline and webchat. Daily helpline open from 5pm to midnight, 0800 585858
- Rethink Mental Illness: support and advice for people living with mental illness. Helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 4pm, 0808 801 0525