As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, people are understandably keen for a gradual return to normal. But while many will be celebrating each stage of the reopening, for others such significant changes will be accompanied by feelings of stress or anxiety.
“I’m still incredibly anxious about catching Covid,” says James Bagshaw, 27, a lecturer who lives in York. “I’m asthmatic and suffer with chronic rhinitis. With lockdown ending I’m anxious that I’ll have to come into contact with people even though I’ll be unvaccinated for a while longer yet.”
For others such as Nikki McCaig, 24, a freelance marketer from Nottingham, the mental strain of lockdown ending is the biggest source of stress. “It’s been such a long time since we’ve all faced ‘normal life’ that I’ve honestly forgotten what it feels like. I’ve felt safe inside my house but the outside world is unfamiliar and frightening. Socially, how do we navigate this? Where’s the mental health support for those of us returning?”
McCaig is not alone in being uncertain about her place in the post-lockdown world. Louisa Barfoot, a new mum, is anxious about whether she’ll be able to maintain a supportive environment for her five-month-old daughter once “normal” life resumes. “We are in such a good routine that I’m reluctant to break it. We’ve been immune from unwanted advice and have been able to be a nice happy family unit and the thought of this changing now is hard to comprehend. Family and friends will want to meet our daughter, but the coordination of this will be hard – will it still be outside? Do we let people hug and kiss our daughter? Will she or us get ill with Covid?”
Alongside anxieties about returning to the office, or socialising with people one may not have seen for more than a year, the thought of an imminent return to busy streets and train carriages can be overwhelming – particularly for those with a history of mental health issues.
“I’m feeling extremely anxious. I’ve had depression and anxiety for years, including panic disorder, which is triggered by busy places such as public transport, supermarkets and pubs,” says Jess, 30, a civil servant from London. “Before lockdown last March, I was receiving CBT to help me tackle the panic and ‘practise’ going to public places. I was starting to make progress and feel able to do things like go to the pub with friends but lockdown put an end to my ‘practising’.”
Paul Williams, 60, who has suffered from PTSD since 2010, is concerned that the end of the pandemic will mean a return of many of the obligations that aggravated his symptoms. “For people like myself, just going to the dentist or the doctors means a night awake worrying the day before. Going back into the environments that we’ve managed to avoid for the last year is going to be difficult and I’m not sure if I can do it, or if I even want to do it to be honest.”
Indeed, even some people without a history of mental health issues have benefited from the opportunity to slow down and take time for themselves. “It was like the world stopped and everyone was joining me in limbo,” said Angie, 40, an architect from Yorkshire. “For the first time in years, I could give myself permission to do art projects, enjoy each day and just be. Lockdown gave me permission to be still but now that it’s lifting, I’m afraid all the old expectations will return.”