Dr Victor Thompson, a leading London consultant psychologist, talks you though conquering the fear and anxiety that easing the coronavirus lockdown can bring.
As I write this, we are (in the UK anyway) starting to reduce the coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown from its tightest state to a (slightly) more eased version of what we have been used to for over three months.
This got me thinking about how this good news is paradoxically causing many of us to feel more anxious and fearful compared to a short while ago - when the lockdown and our restrictions were most strict. Here, I will explain why this is the case and what we can do to conquer fears about easing the coronavirus lockdown.
How easing lockdown can affect us
First of all, let’s think about why easing the lockdown increases our stress. Easing the lockdown brings change. And, put simply, change affects people in different ways. For some, it represents a good thing. For others, it represents a not-so-good thing.
Change can bring a large degree of uncertainty. This can feel unsettling and feeling unsettled is a state that feeds our anxiety.
Easing the lockdown will increase our anxiety if:
- We have been mainly isolated during the lockdown.
- We feel unsure about our safety, or even more so if we perceive that we are not safe from the coronavirus threats.
- We perceive that the negative consequences of coronavirus will be big – being sick, hospitalised, in an ICU (intensive care unit), on a ventilator, even death, with impacts not only on us but also on our families if we are out of action.
- We perceive that we are vulnerable – perhaps because we have a weak immune system, often get ill, or must go to places where we are exposed to greater risks.
- We distrust the official information on how to keep safe.
- We read or hear information that amplifies our fears – social media feeds, news sources, opinions from friends and family.
These psychological processes will lead to a greater sense of fear and reluctance to expand our range of activities. This is in contrast to those people who show confidence in any easing of lockdown and the opportunity to increase their activities. What is their secret?
In my opinion, the confident people are likely to mentally do one or more of the following:
- Perceive the world as safe.
- View themselves as a coper – they have faith that they can cope with the virus should they contract it.
- Believe in their ability to control the viral threat – through handwashing, hand sanitising etc.
- Trust that if they do contract the virus, that they will be successfully cared for and treated by healthcare.
- Think that this ‘coronavirus thing’ is all a hoax, a lie, so nothing to worry about.
- Identify as a rebel, ignoring warnings, taking risks, or showing others that they can do whatever they wish (and not just during the lockdown!)
I imagine that you will see these psychological strategies in those who are doing more than most during the lockdown.
Tips to overcome anxiety from easing lockdown
For those of us who are feeling anxious about the easing of the lockdown i.e. the prospect of going out more, seeing more people and being closer to other people, what can we do? Here are my tips:
- Work out the ways that you will keep yourself reasonably safe from the virus (e.g. handwashing, antibacterial gels…)
- Plan the ways that you will increase what you do so that your progression is cautious, yet shows an increase in what you are doing
- Share your concerns about the easing of lockdown with other sensible people, to gain support and encouragement
- Learn to tune-out the amplifiers – stop reading and hearing from those sources or people that are full of doom and gloom, worry, or who sensationalise the Covid-19 situation
- When you get information on the virus, be discerning, ensuring that you go to factual and reliable sources
- Set time limits on time spent talking, reading, watching and listening to Coronavirus-related ‘stuff’ – set some boundaries
- Find other things to focus on (topics, hobbies, reading…) to occupy your curious mind, so the Coronavirus takes up less mental space and creates less havoc
Feeling uneasy about the easing of the lockdown is understandable. Follow these tips to take control of the situation, so that you feel mentally less anxious and more confident about doing more.
If you would like a more personalised understanding, support and help at this challenging time, then do get in touch. It would be great to hear from you.