Cautiously Unlocking

As I write this in May 2021 the covid lockdown restrictions across Britain are beginning to lift, although the future remains uncertain. In England we’re allowed to meet people inside again, including pubs, restaurants and cinemas. As this happens I notice two conflicting motivations in me. Firstly a joy of being able to do more, and secondly a caution or anxiety around going back ‘out there’. I imagine many people have similar feelings and thought it might be useful to explore some of these here.

Joy and Excitement

It’s understandable to feel joy or excitement about the restrictions being lifted. They have affected us all in different ways for well over a year at this point. Having restrictions on who you are able to meet, who you are able to hug, when you are able to go outside, if people are allowed into your home (and many other things of course) has undoubtedly had a big impact on us. We are social people and most of us are not used to having such restrictions on our day-to-day lives, so I would expect that the lockdown will have affected our mental health in some way (aside from the direct repercussions of the virus itself). I read this article recently about the how the pandemic has affected our wellbeing, with over half of adults and more than two thirds of young people saying their mental health has worsened. The article also mentions that we may suffer or be suffering from collective trauma, where many small constant stresses build up and impact large numbers of people. Towards the beginning of the pandemic I attended a virtual dream workshop with psychotherapists Robin Shohet and Joan Wilmot where we discussed whether the pandemic is causing us all to have similar dreams (‘collective dreaming’), for example nightmares that we can’t quite reach our loved ones. Amidst all this is it any wonder we would feel great joy or relief when we’re able to reconnect to the people and activities we love?

Feeling Exhausted

One thing I have been aware of is the physical and emotional impact of starting to unlock our lives again. That joy at seeing people, even for only a couple of hours, can lead us to feel completely exhausted (and it’s obviously not just me!) While for most people the beginning of the pandemic was an incredibly anxious one, many of us have somewhat settled into a new routine now. Although everyone’s experience will be different, it’s likely that this routine will have involved a lot less social activity than before the pandemic. I think there are a few reasons to why we might experience such exhaustion when starting to re-engage, for example:

  • Flexing our social muscles after not using them for so long.
  • The worry around new social norms (do we hug?)
  • Physically doing more than we’re used to.
  • Increased stimulation (noise, visually).
  • The emotion of connecting with people after a long separation.

I’m sure there are more as well. All of these build upon the background of the uncertainty, upheaval and grief of the last year that’s it’s no surprise that adding new activities on top (even if they are fun) is bound to leave us more tired than they would have done before the pandemic.

Anxiety and worry

It may be you’re feeling that actually you’re not ready for all this unlocking. This could be for a multitude of reasons. As I discussed above the impact on our wellbeing or mental health could’ve been huge, and while the vaccinations are rolling out and restrictions in Britain are being eased the pandemic is not over. Also living in a state of caution for over a year to avoid the virus is not something that will be an easy state of mind to get out of for some of us. If you were already anxious about socialising with other people, you have an underlying health condition, you haven’t received your vaccinations, or you were generally anxious about your health then it’s perfectly normal to not want to start unlocking your life just yet. You may wish that you could start see people ‘normally’ again but be worried that the first meeting after being separated for so long could be overly intense or emotionally exhausting. Equally, you don’t need a reason to feel anxious about it. Anxiety or worry is perfectly normal, especially at the moment.

I have mentioned a few feelings that may be common as we start to unlock and re-enter the world: joy, excitement, exhaustion, anxiety and worry. Of course those are far from everything we may be feeling. There will no doubt be sadness, optimism, grief, numbness, overwhelm, loneliness, guilt, anger, confusion and who knows what else. You might be experiencing a heady cocktail of all of these and more. The important thing is to recognise that whatever you’re feeling is OK.