Much of the global population has been forced into lockdown due to the rapid escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst many countries are looking to ‘re-open’ and ease lockdown procedures, areas such as the UK and the USA are still facing a high number of coronavirus cases, as the virus is still in general circulation. Caution is still advised, as facemasks are advised or mandatory, social distancing is still in effect and some businesses are still working remotely. Although we have more freedom to leave the house, many are feeling a sense of growing nervousness when it comes to leaving the house.
The notion of being safe has been largely associated with staying inside during the course of the pandemic, so it is natural to feel a sense of trepidation when it comes to ‘re-entering’ the outside world. It is important to still follow health guidelines and be vigilant in preventative measures such as washing hands and staying at a two-metre distance.
It is not abnormal to feel anxiety in this regard, in fact it is quite rational, in the UK, Huffington Post reported that ‘Psychotherapist Mike Ward, who runs the London and Hampshire Anxiety Clinic, estimates that 25 to 30% of his clients are expressing concerns about leaving their homes to go back to work or outside to the shops, after becoming used to the level of social distancing we’ve been following since Boris Johnson introduced the national lockdown two months ago.’
A study from IPSOS market research company and the Washington Post, found that a large proportion of Americans also feared returning to work, US News reported that ‘Nearly 1 in 3 Americans leave their homes to go to work at least once a week, and the percentage of those who fear getting the coronavirus overall is 69%, with 14% saying they are extremely concerned and 18% saying they are very concerned.’ Dominant fears were bringing the virus back into their homes and to their family members.
As restrictions are lifting, some may still only be going to the shops for essential supplies, others may be considering seeing family, whilst some may have to go back to work. Whether or not you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder that is worsened, or if you are experiencing anxiety for the first time, many people are having very real concerns and fears about leaving the house. Be kind to yourself, it is acceptable and normal to have those fears, however try to not let them overwhelm your life.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Lucy Fuller, a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist, suggested taking time outside in small steps. ‘It’s almost like phobia therapy, you need to do a little bit at a time, think about when is the best time to go out, how long for (just go for a short period), and go somewhere you think won’t be busy” she suggests. “Maybe go for a walk around the block at 6.30pm when it’s not busy, then keep at it. Try to go again the next day – you might not feel like it, but keep doing it. Then make it a little bit more, so walk past the supermarket. Then next time, go and stand in the queue or go inside.”
If you do have to attend work, many workplaces are putting COVID precautions in place. Ask your employer about these protocols and take your own precautions to make yourself feel safer. Washing your hands when you leave the workplace and as soon as you get into your house, wearing a facemask, preparing your own food and so forth.
Limit your anxiety by limiting the amount of news you take in per day. Constantly checking updates and infection rates will exacerbate your fears. When you are at home, focus on the little joys in your life, take time to relax and address your anxieties with methods that work for you. Perhaps by practicing Yoga, meditating or visiting mental health organisations to learn how to better understand and cope with your mental health.
It is also important to raise these issues with your health professionals if you feel it is appropriate. They may be able to look into appropriate therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, that would be of benefit during this time.
Returning to life as it was before will be a challenge for many people in the aftermath of the pandemic. You may not feel comfortable participating in all of the activities you engaged in before the crisis, this is quite normal. Take things at your own pace and be sure to look after your mental wellbeing in the meantime.