The UK prepares to unlock, but has COVID-19 reshaped our attitudes?
As Britain looks to shake off the last of its coronavirus restrictions on Monday, it should come as no surprise the year and a half of uncertainty, isolation and stress has left its mark on some. KALTRINA KHAN meets a leading expert in anxiety.
Since our ancestors’ experiences of walking in the jungle, it is known that snakes and lions can be dangerous — so our brains are kept alert.
In terms of the pandemic, rather than the danger being snakes or lions, our sensors have been conditioned to believe that normal life and people are now the threats, says psychotherapist Joshua Fletcher.
“If you condition your brain for eighteen months that the people you like to go out with, restaurants, cinemas, going inside to see you family is all dangerous — don’t be surprised if that same primitive response asks — ‘are you sure?’ as you suddenly step back into normality.”
Having once suffered from generalised health anxiety (GAD), panic attacks, agoraphobia and health anxiety himself, Fletcher is now authoring three popular best-selling books on the subject and hosting The Panic Pod podcast.
“The unknown terrifies me. We’ve all been talking about something that we might not even notice we’ve got — or it can kill you. I live with OCD, so that is just fuel for my anxious brain. The not knowing is just scarier than knowing what the actual outcome is.”
There is no doubt that the pandemic, and the accompanying lockdowns, have altered people’s social skills. According to Fletcher, those who were extroverted prior Covid could have been affected worse.
“What I’ve seen is people who were confident or extroverted in the past 18 months lose their confidence and social fluidity from being told to stay inside for all those months. The 18 months have taken their toll because they haven’t had an outlook of extraversion.”
“Whereas if you’re someone who’s introverted and enjoys having your own space, you might find that going back to normal is no different.”
England was originally set to mark “freedom day” — when the final remnants of the lockdown would end, on June 21, but the government hit pause until July 19 amid concerns over the Delta virus variant first identified in India.
Among the restrictions set to be lifted in a few days are the “one metre-plus” social distancing guidelines, limits on social contact indoors and capacity caps on large-scale events. All remaining businesses, such as nightclubs, will also be allowed to re-open.
For Jenny Stallard, a writer, podcaster, coach and founder of Freelance Feels, anxiety during lockdown came as a surprise, as moving house in August 2020 led her to feeling more isolated than she expected.
Despite an ongoing battle to contain, many Britons such as Stallard are now finding the idea of taking crowded public transport or grabbing a pint with friends at a busy pub overwhelming.
“I was never nervous being in crowds before the pandemic. I’m very sociable, very outgoing — one of those people who likes to goes to parties and events and see lots of people. But it feels very strange to me now, the idea of going to a club or pub where it’s really crowded.
“The staff at one of my favourite local pubs told me that on a normal Friday night it used to be really rammed, and in that moment I through oh my god, and in that moment I did feel really anxious. I’ve got used to how things are. I don’t like the idea of it being filled with loads of people and me not being able to get to the bar to order a drink.”
Many people, like Stallard, plan to continue the habit of wearing face masks. A recent survey by ONS found that 64% of adults in the country still plan to cover their faces in shops and public transport, following the lifting of most coronavirus restrictions from 19 July 2021.
Two-thirds of UK adults have received two vaccine doses, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announces. However, the number of new positive cases have risen by almost 50,000 in one day — reporting the highest increase since January 15.
“If not everyone is double jabbed I do not feel comfortable to be around people who are not protected as there are still many vulnerable people in society,” says Leila Hills, a business support officer at the government legal department.
4 tips on how to manage post-Covid anxiety
By neuro linguistic programming and hypnotherapy coach Rebecca Lockwood.
- Take things slowly if you can
If you feel uncomfortable and out of sorts, take things as slow as you feel works for you if you can. Understand that it is going to feel normal feeling a bit nervous about having freedom to do what you want again and take it easy.
2. Check in with yourself and how you are feeling
Take notice of how you are feeling and know that this is ok. It may even feel as though you are doing things for the first time again for some. Check in with yourself and pay attention to what you feel and think at this time.
3. Understand that most of the world will also be feeling the same right now, and it’s ok
A lot of people will be feeling anxious at the moment, and it’s normal to feel this way. Coming back out of your comfort zone can cause the physical effects of anxiety, so be kind to yourself.
4. Speak to someone about how you feel, don’t just brush it under the rug, it’s ok to feel like this
You may be surprised to hear that others are feeling the same and need someone to talk to. By opening up about how you feel and think right now could also help others feeling this way right now.