Monday 19th July was, in England, ‘Freedom Day’, where the one-metre social distancing rule and working from home order were dropped, and mask-wearing is no longer compulsory.
Many employers are concerned about what the workplace will look like after Covid-19 restrictions lift, with many anticipating hybrid working will become the new norm.
Perhaps you think you ought to feel excited, relieved, happy, full of hope? The reality is that many people are feeling anxious, stressed and fearful.
For some, the so-called Freedom Day is the exact opposite. Those who are vulnerable are “rendered housebound by those who choose not to wear masks”. The change in restrictions will mean avoiding places where people congregate, offering even fewer opportunities to socialise.
For others, anxiety is triggered by starting to do things we haven’t experienced in a while. Whether it’s being in a crowd, travelling on public transport, hugs or even choosing something to wear after so many months of throwing on loungewear.
"Any form of anxiety is based on a feeling of danger, and because we've spent a long-time hearing about the genuine medical dangers of in-person contact, it's perfectly understandable to feel anxious or uncertain about spending time with other people, even if we're doing so in line with the current guidelines." says Dr Lydia Kearney, an expert in social anxiety at the University of Kent’s School of Psychology.
Many of us feel under pressure to transition to total normality as seamlessly as possible.
Here are a few tips for managing 'Freedom Day' anxiety…
Set your boundaries
We might not have to wear masks soon, but it’s important to consider what you personally feel ready for and find the boundaries you feel comfortable living by.
For example, you might feel comfortable only going to places where you will have personal space or wearing a mask around people outside of your immediate circle - such as on a bus or in a shop.
Perhaps you're ready to socialise in a friend's house, but only if everyone there has a recent negative test. By thinking about what's important in order to feel safe and comfortable ahead of time, you will be more able to avoid situations you don't feel happy with.
Have an honest chat with those close to you
Have open and honest conversations about how you’re feeling with people you trust. You could try explaining to friends and family how your experiences have made you feel this way and clearly outline the level of risk you feel comfortable with.
This will hopefully help loved one's to understand and respect that your decisions aren’t based on whether or not you want to see them, but whether or not you feel safe to do so.
Take little steps
You might not feel ready to go to a nightclub for example, but perhaps you could start by going to the supermarket in the evening when it’s quiet, or to the park to meet a friend you trust. Go at your own pace and remember those boundaries!
Be kind (and to yourself)
One of the worst parts of loneliness and anxiety is that it convinces us we're the only one who's experiencing it. The past 18 months has been unpredictable and really scary for all of us – we'd be more surprised to hear someone didn't have any anxiety about the end of restrictions and a 'return to normal life'. So go ahead and give yourself a break!
If you know someone who is feeling anxious, reach out to them and ask them how they’re feeling about changes in restrictions. You could ask if there’s anything you can do to help them feel more comfortable, or just let them know you totally understand if they’d prefer to meet online, or chat on the phone for the time being.
Sometimes all you need is someone to cheer you on and remind you that you're doing a great job during such a stormy time. It might sound simple but just following people on social media who evoke these feelings can make a real difference. Here are some of our favourites; All Things Lilly Ann, Action for Happiness and The Happy Newspaper.