Life after coronavirus- Adapting to a ‘new normal’

2020’s aspiring Bluetree psychologist and intern, Alexis Baker writes about life in the new normal…..

As lockdown eases, shops are beginning to open, people are retuning to work, and life in general is getting busier. Perhaps you have also started meeting up with friends for that long-awaited face-to-face catch up? We are all gradually moving away from isolated and slower-paced living towards something that resembles our original fast-paced normal lives. For some, this may be an exciting time to feel like themselves again, tick off items from their to-do list, visit new bars and restaurants, and enjoy other things they had missed during lockdown. For others, the idea of bursting the bubble of safety they have created at home over these past few months can be highly anxiety inducing. The term ‘re-entry anxiety’ has been used extensively in the media to describe the fear many people are experiencing towards returning to their old lives in the context of the ‘new normal’ post-lockdown. If this resonates with you, then you are not alone. In a recent poll by Ipsos MORI, only 17% of Britons said they felt comfortable attending a large gathering such as a sport or music event and 3 in 5 said they were uncomfortable using public transport.

The fear of the ‘new normal’ can be made worse by the different facts and figures we hear day to day from the media and other people regarding the ‘right thing’ to do. At the same time, seeing people around you return to normal life whilst you still feel unsafe and vulnerable can bring up other negative emotions such as loneliness and increased stress. Unfortunately, when we feel unprepared and out of control in our environment we are more likely to panic and start catastrophising, which in turn can cause us to feel even more unsafe. Therefore, it is important to put measures in place to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed as soon as possible.

Here are 5 helpful tips to prevent you from feeling overwhelmed during this difficult time:

  1. Take things slow. While you may not be able to control certain things, such as having to return to work, consider other aspects of your life that you can control. Allow yourself to do these activities at a speed that feels safe to you. It is important to trust that you will feel normal again in the future and to be patient in the meantime. Try and start small, for example organise a socially distanced meet up with 1 friend per week or go and check out a local shop you love whilst wearing your personal protection. Little acts of normality dotted throughout your month can really help!
  2. Avoid pressure from others. Perhaps you are keen to meet with friends and family, but you are nervous about being the only person wearing personal protection, not wanting to hug others, or share food. This can bring up feelings of embarrassment and you may feel pressure blend in with the rest of the group and ignore your own concerns. However, it is important to continue doing what makes you feel comfortable. Also, you are unlikely to fully enjoy your social experiences if you feel anxious the whole time. You could try letting your friends know in advance that you feel uncomfortable sharing food or hugging anyone. Sharing this information in advance means that you and your friends may feel more prepared on the day and you can focus your attention on having a lovely time! It is important to be open with others about what you feel ready to do, and feel confident in knowing you are protecting their wellbeing as well as your own.
  3. Remember self-care. This is always important but particularly during times of stress and anxiety. Try some easy breathing exercises, start a new book, take a long walk whilst listening to music (if you feel comfortable), or have a hot bath. Remember to check in with your emotions throughout the day and have an activity in mind if you catch yourself becoming overwhelmed. Also, limiting the time you spend checking the news or internet for coronavirus updates will be highly beneficial. It’s understandable if you want to check the news from time to time for a quick update, but remember you are already trying to cope with the ‘new normal’ and immersing yourself deeper into coronavirus panic will only make things more challenging!
  4. Set Boundaries. As coronavirus still remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it can be easy to be sucked into conversations to the point where it is the only thing you think about. However, this will only increase your levels of stress and you can lose track of other things that define you. When you feel yourself become emotionally drained, make efforts to put boundaries in place with other people. For example, you could agree to not discuss the pandemic at the dinner table with your family, suggest other topics of conversation with friends and colleagues (such as a new recipe you’ve tried out or a new book you love), and express your need for space when you feel overwhelmed. It is important that you pay attention to how you feel during conversations and feel confident in putting boundaries in place to take control of your own well-being.
  5. Alter your mindset. As mentioned previously, panicking and catastrophising will only cause you even more distress and unhappiness. It is important to be realistic about what is going on around you and become accepting towards the fact that re-entry into normal everyday life is inevitable. While you may not be able to change certain factors in your external environment you can change the way you think about them. By encouraging yourself to remain calm you will also find yourself thinking more clearly about what is leading you to feel anxious. Practicing yoga or mindfulness (there are some great YouTube tutorials!) will be particularly helpful for this by promoting awareness of your thoughts and feelings. You could also start a gratitude journal to encourage you reflect on your day from a more positive perspective, or simply start a diary to track how you are feeling and what activities make you feel more calm or uplifted.

It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed and uncertain during these times, and everyone is likely to feel some degree of anxiety at the moment, but it is key that you maintain focus on your own wellbeing. We hope these tips provide you with some ideas on how you can create your own sense of normality at a pace that suits you, whilst also monitoring your emotions along the way. It is also important that you acknowledge when it would be useful to reach out for additional support, even if this feels overwhelming in itself.

Help-seeking is a normal and adaptive way of taking control of things you are struggling with and is a great way of preventing things from getting worse. Nobody has ever experienced this pandemic before, and it is impacting people in many different ways so seeking help is not something to be ashamed of.

If you find yourself needing someone to talk to, The Blue Tree Clinic are here to listen. We have dedicated private therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists who are able to provide you with support (via skype or over the phone), no matter how big or small the concern, to encourage you to feel yourself again.