What a strange year it has been! Who would have believed that we would have been in this situation just a few short months ago. And, as we slowly come out of the Lockdown, we are beginning to understand that the pandemic has changed our lives in ways we could never have imagined. Changes that may be with us for a very long time.
I went to get my hair cut last week for the first time since February, which was an interesting, if a little unsettling, experience! I was greeted at the door by my stylist wearing a visor, mask and apron and was directed to a blocked off cubicle. I was given a mask and apron and a bag to put my coat and bag in, before we even properly said hello!
I have really missed my hairdresser Chaz, and we immediately set about trying to catch up on the last four months and our experiences of the Lockdown. But I discovered it is hard to talk to someone when you are both wearing masks! I realise how often I watch people’s mouths when they talk, and being unable to do this, am sometimes missing parts of the conversation. I took the picture below of myself and Chaz and we laughed when we realised that we were both smiling under our masks for the shot!
Yesterday, Andy and I went to Bicester Village, a shopping outlet near Oxford. What a difference from the last time I visited! Queues at the entrance, temperature scanning, polite requests for masks and sanitizers to be used constantly, and everywhere arrows and social distancing markers. As we entered each individual shop, we were asked to hand sanitise again. A few dozen shops later and I have the cleanest hands on the planet…. And those hand sanitisers are a law unto themselves. Some dispense neatly into your hand, others seem to be trained to spray directly into your face. One even had a foot pump, which caused quite a queue as potential shoppers tried to work out how to use it! Strict limits were in place regarding how many people could be admitted into any one shop at any one time, and ‘digital queues’ were managed by scanning QR codes!
Is this the new normal? How long will these measures be in place? I notice people have adapted quite quickly, though at Bicester yesterday, some seem to be looking around in bewilderment at these huge changes to the shopping experience. One shop worker whispered darkly to me that she thought these changes were with us forever, while another one cheerily said we would be back to “normal” by Christmas. But what is “normal” now? We have been told by the scientists that Covid-19 will be with us for a long time, and we will probably have to learn to live with it, rather than being able to kill it off altogether. At least in the short term.
Lockdown has been hard on all of us. Particularly for those struggling with mental health issues, for those that live alone, and of course, people who have small living spaces. But now Lockdown is lifting and we are desperate to get back outside. Aren’t we? Perhaps not. After this long period of enforced isolation, it can feel very unsettling to go back outside and return to seeing people in person, whether it’s doing a bit of shopping or restarting our social lives.
For many of us, Lockdown has meant quiet and isolation. Coming back into shops, travelling on public transport, and even returning to a work environment may feel overwhelming. The noise, the sights, the smells! All of which we are unused to! Headphones can be a great way to reduce noise and can help us focus and create a distraction, with favourite music, podcasts or audiobooks.
My first trip out of the house after 3 months of isolation was a nerve wracking experience. I was unused to driving and felt anxious about things I couldn’t really put my finger on. I know I am not alone. The worries that many of us are experiencing broadly fall into 3 categories. Firstly, we are devastated about the losses we have sustained, not only the lives of those who have died from the virus, but also our jobs, relationships, finances and a sense of what we thought was normal. Secondly, we are understandably afraid of what the future will look like post Coronavirus, and finally, we are scared of getting ill ourselves or losing loved ones to the virus. All of these concerns are being felt by the vast majority of the population. We are in this together.
If you are feeling anxious about starting to go out again, take it slowly. If you are planning trips out, take baby steps to start, and if you start to feel anxious, simply head home. It is likely that next time you try you may be able to go a bit further or for longer.
Try not to compare yourself to others. Some will outwardly cope a lot better than others, but dealing with these feelings and processing what it means for you, is a very individual experience. So try not to judge yourself based on what other people are doing.
Try to relieve anxiety by thinking positively about things you have missed and really want to do again. Perhaps it is friends or family you want to visit, places you want to travel to, or the restaurants you want to dine at. If you have a strong personal motivation, it’s likely to be a easier for you, and therefore a good place to start.
Perhaps it may be time to look at your priorities. There is no rush, but reevaluating your life, be that work, finances, location, or relationships, is always a healthy exercise, and now is a great time to reassess your plans and goals. It might also be a good opportunity to reflect on whether you can continue with some of the things you’ve been doing differently. For example, I will certainly be travelling a lot less in the future for work appointments. Now I have realised how much time and stress I can save myself by having work meetings on Skype or Zoom, I will not be spending hours in the car and overnight stays away from my family.
Understand and accept that it will take time to adjust. No one can expect to isolate for 3 or 4 months and then return to a pre Lockdown mindset overnight. Give yourself a break and take your time. There is no rush.
Do try and talk over how you are feeling with friends and family. I find that once someone gets the ball rolling with this sort of conversation, it’s amazing how many times you hear “Yes! I feel like that to!”
Try not to read to much into sensationalist news reports. Newspapers and channels try and make stories as exciting as possible to get people to buy papers and tune in. Limit your time listening to the latest news to a few minutes each day just to catch the headlines.
Whatever your personal fears, worry and anxiety may be around coming out of lockdown, it is very important to acknowledge that any, and all of these feelings are entirely reasonable. We can only rebuild our confidence slowly as we move through and process these fears. Ridiculing or trying to bury them, will only force them to resurface at a later date.
Challenge yourself to try something new each day or even each week. Try not to allow the required isolation that was necessary in lockdown, to become deliberate seclusion now. Celebrate your achievements, however small, and keep a note or journal recording how you are feeling.
The world is changing and has changed. Try not to worry. Our brains are engineered to adapt and adapt they will, even as it takes time for all of us to get used to the new “normal.” Be gentle and kind to yourself and give yourself a break. It will take some time … but that’s OK ❤️