I have noticed an interesting phenomenon among clients recently. Even though many people’s lives have been hugely affected by COVID-19 and there is a general sense of relief and optimism, others have expressed feeling unexpected anxiety and sadness at the prospect of restrictions being lifted.
These feelings often seem to have come ‘out of the blue’ and present in contrast to (but not instead of) feelings of relief and pleasant anticipation of again being able to live a freer, more connected, more stable life.
Thoughts and emotions such as these are, in my view, completely normal and to be expected. Given the unprecedented amount of mental pressure we have been enduring over what feels like an open-ended (or unending) period of time, we now have to find ways of dealing with the prospect of re-entering society and being with others again in a way which is, still, uncertain. It can be hard for us, after needing to adapt to isolation, now imagining interacting again with friends, colleagues, and strangers. For some, the very idea of reconnecting with the outside world might be concerning or even terrifying. For those suffering from emotional difficulties or anxiety, such as OCD or social phobia, the notion of socialising again or returning to work may be causing heightened worry.
It is important to remember we have all had to radically adapt to changing circumstances. Part of this has meant we’ve needed to accept periods of prolonged uncertainty with little or no social contact and under highly stressful circumstances including being constantly exposed to stress and despair in the media. Because of these necessary psychological adaptations, it might almost feel ‘unnatural’ to imagine feeling something else or engaging differently with the world. We've done our best to feel safe and in control in a situation which has often deprived us of both. There are also ongoing concerns for many about contracting the virus or passing it on to others. Alongside this, there are increasing stressors: holding down employment, supporting loved-ones, retaining a sense of life satisfaction and achievement as well as life's usual ups and downs, many of which demand a great deal from us at the best of times, both physically and emotionally.
It took time and an enormous amount of energy and resilience to adapt to a different world back in March 2020. This was a huge ‘ask’ of ourselves and our minds and bodies. Now, as things change once more, it will take time to adjust to any future developments or requirements. It helps to remember how important it is to be kind to ourselves, no matter what it is we are currently feeling. Emotions, even if unexpected, are never in themselves wrong. Even as restrictions ease, other issues with work or with relationships may surface. Continuing with regular exercise or physical movement to manage stress and depression is vital, as is ‘checking in’ with ourselves on a daily basis and practising an acceptance of whatever it is we find. Mindfulness or meditation can help. Every day, try to tell yourself, ‘Be kind to yourself, you're doing the best you can under difficult circumstances. Well done!'