First of all, it’s normal to be anxious when there’s such a big change for us as a society. I think the last time there was something similar was post-9/11 when people had to adjust to using transport at a time when people were anxious about that.
The “re-entry” syndrome people might be experiencing as lockdown ends is part of a healthy readjustment and something that people have to deal with when they’ve been off sick or on maternity leave for long periods.
However, the difference here is that we won’t be returning to normal as we’ve known it before and so there’s a lot of anxiety about what the new normal will look like. It’s important that people take it slowly. Try not to rush back into all your old activities and routines at once.
The second thing is to be compassionate towards others who may well be anxious or confused themselves. There’s going to be some friction and a readjustment period as we get used to being together again.
Often, when people have anticipatory anxiety, they imagine the worst, so an important part of treatments like CBT is getting people to stop catastrophising and start actively countering their negative thoughts by visualising positive scenarios. The reality is life is going to be somewhere between the positive and negative extremes and it can be reassuring for people to know that things aren’t necessarily going to be as bad as they fear.
Another tip for those first few times you go out would be to do simple mindfulness exercises that can help people to feel present and grounded. Things like deep breathing and focusing on your senses can take you away from your negative thoughts and help you to feel more present.
It’s important to try to tolerate some of the discomfort and not to avoid going out. A lot of us have become very comfortable in our current routines and making big changes can be difficult. But ultimately people need to expose themselves in a safe and incremental way to some of the discomfort if they want to come out of lockdown successfully.
People who are really struggling, perhaps because they suffer with social anxiety or OCD for example, might need to seek professional help. Mental health services are open and still taking referrals. It’s really important, particularly for people suffering from OCD or PTSD-like symptoms, to talk to their GP and try to get referred to a mental health service. There’s very effective therapy available and, if needed, medication. The main thing is that no one suffers in silence.