Although it has been confirmed that England will proceed to the last stage of relaxing coronavirus restrictions on 19 July, public reaction has been varied, with many people experiencing a sense of reopening anxiety over the forthcoming regulation changes. Here at HELLO! we speak with several experts who share their best advice for individuals who are concerned about the sudden return to normalcy after a difficult year.
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Take it slow
When you are feeling nervous about stepping foot into society again, rushing into activities and events will only make you feel worse. To help overcome fears about traveling, communicating, and interacting with others, mental health specialist Zoe Clews suggests, “doing it slowly, building up to it, with support.”
Zoe says: "Compassion is key, you can't just expect yourself to immediately switch from being scared to fearless!"
Zoe specialises in anxiety and PTSD and during the lockdowns ran a free weekly online mental health group to help people cope with the anxiety and stress around lockdown and latterly with coping with the return to normality.
She adds: “With fears it's important to face them, but with huge self-compassion and slowly, not by launching yourself in headfirst. Going from not really seeing anyone to a huge party is going to be extremely taxing on the nervous system so take your time. It's all about the baby steps.”
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Reconnecting with friends
Many people are concerned about resuming major social events with friends and reconnecting with those that they haven't seen in a long time. Reuniting face to face might be daunting for individuals who were completely isolated throughout the different lockdowns, especially those who are clinically vulnerable. There may also be anxieties about friends who are more prepared for the world to reopen than you are, which makes reconnections more difficult.
Reconnect with friends at your own pace
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari is a relationship expert, psychologist and therapist. She advises: “If you find the prospect of meeting a large group of friends overwhelming, start with a smaller group or just one person at a time, and build up to meeting more friends as part of a large group. Speak to them about how you are feeling, without offering any judgment on how others choose to act.”
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She adds: “This is a transition period, and transition means our brain relearns the sensations and our experiences of meeting. Remember that we are all different and choose to move at our own pace.”
Dr Kalanit-Ben-Ari says: "Try to acknowledge your feelings about the situation and accept them."
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari also suggests preparing yourself beforehand to calm your mind via breathing exercise or meditation. She says: “Meeting at a familiar place can help you to visualise your setting beforehand and feel more confident going into the experience.”
Communicate your concerns with those around you
People may be anxious that they could lose friendships if they don’t involve themselves socially once everything reopens. Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari explains that this can be a common feeling as the potential impact of losing friendships is primarily loneliness, which can influence our mental health and wellbeing. When you are feeling nervous, communication is key, and you should initiate conversations with your friends and family over your concerns. Share your fears with them and be honest with them when you're worried.
Speaking with HELLO! Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari's advice would be to “explain to them that their friendship is important to you and make suggestions of the sort of socialising you would feel more comfortable with initially. It might be meeting up to exercise outdoors together, a coffee outdoors, or meeting in a small group.”
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Set boundaries for yourself and do things your way. Remember that you are in control, and it is still within your rights to do what makes you feel the safest. It is important to acknowledge your feelings and you do not need to feel guilty if you have a different response to others during this transition period to normality.
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari advises that you should “be confident in your decisions, do what feels comfortable for you, and take it one step at a time. Your pace is the right pace for you, so try to trust your intuition”.
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Prioritise your physical and mental health
It's no secret that stress has an adverse effect on the immune system; it's all about ensuring that you're taking the best possible care of yourself. Emmy Brunner, a psychotherapist and a personal transformation coach, explains to HELLO! the importance of taking care of your body.
Emmy emphasises the importance of "allowing yourself to enjoy reconnecting with those that you love."
She says: “By nurturing ourselves physically and mentally, we are giving ourselves the best possible chance of a) not contracting the virus or b) becoming very unwell.” Although restrictions are lifting many people may be anxious about contracting the virus.
Keep active and prioritise your mental and physical health
Emmy adds: “When we removed so many of the distractions of day-to-day life, many of us were left to consider the relationship that we had with ourselves and the state of our mental health.”
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You don't have to adjust to your new surroundings immediately and it is important to keep in mind that you are strong and capable of this big step.
Emmy emphasises the importance of adjusting back to your former lifestyle: “Those of us that spent our days running around from one task to the other were confronted with the truth of our life choices, and for many of us that was a painful realisation. It’s important we retain those insights and make lifestyle changes accordingly.”
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Learn to love living life again
It has been an extremely difficult year with months of not being able to see loved ones which has left so many broken-hearted. We've all realised that the true art of life is in sharing our experiences with others and as restrictions ease it is important to allow yourself to enjoy reuniting with the people you care about.
Remember the things you love most about life
Emmy says: “True connection and fulfilment cannot be found watching box sets or seeing a friend’s face on a screen, it comes through the rubbing of shoulders, the clinking of glasses, the belly laughs, the unspoken knowing that we are seen when talking through painful experiences with friends. Covid-19 robbed us of those things, and we all felt the pain of that. Remember what you love about being human…the next few months will allow us to connect with that joy once again.”
Mental health specialist Zoe also adds: “We've moved from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to FOGO (Fear of Going Out). We need human connection not just to thrive, but to survive. I encourage you to get out there, with support, with self-compassion and remember that life is for living!”
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