This blog aims to focus on providing advice to students who may be a little more nervous about returning to their social-selves post lockdown.
Trigger warning: As much as I like my blogs to look on the bright side, it’s not at all sunshine and rainbows all the time, and we can’t be naïve to that. There’s some discussion relating to feelings of anxiety and isolation here, and it’s totally okay if you want to sit this one out.
Post-lockdown anxiety. Needless to say, we’re all in unchartered waters here – between changing guidelines, personal worries, and the ‘new normal’ – everything is a little odd right now. With the news of pubs reopening, there’s certainly a mixed bag of emotions to be expected, and understandably so.
For many, this is a welcome announcement; we can finally think about meeting our friends for a proper ice-cold Corona, rather than an isolated zoom quiz due to worries of her somewhat problematic name twin. Despite this seemingly good news, you might be experiencing what Anxiety UK have dubbed ‘Post Lockdown Anxiety’. You’re not alone. The pressures to socialise and jump straight back in to normal life, coupled with FOMO (fear of missing out) really are a difficult balancing act, and can understandably be affecting our mental health, just as much now as at the start of this whole palaver. Needless to say, I’m no expert; I’m a student too, so I’ll be linking some stuff at the bottom so you can see what the important people have to say on this. But in the meantime, let’s have a chat about what this means for us.
Post Lockdown Anxiety
Essentially, it’s a feeling of worry, stress, or anxiety around trying to reacclimatise to the ‘new’ normal. We had to get used to being isolated and alone so suddenly, that now the big wide world seems all the bigger and wider.
Anxiety UK have explained the extent of these feelings in their recent blog post, which depicts the truly mixed picture amongst the public. If you’re experiencing anything like this, you’re definitely not alone, and in fact, aren’t even in a minority. Out of 900 respondents, 36% stated they were quite happy to remain at home after lockdown. That’s basically 1 in 3. Of those feeling anxious about lockdown lifting, 46% were worried about the pressures to socialise. I think if we tailored this to the student population, this might even increase given the culture expected around university experience. It’s really important that we identify these feelings, validate them to ourselves, and understand what we can do to help both ourselves and others.
Throughout this blog we’re going to talk about:
- practical steps you can take to ease things,
- having difficult conversations with others, and
- helping a friend you think may struggle with the ‘new normal’
Practical Steps to Reacclimatise
1. Firstly, and above all else, take it at your own pace. This whole thing is about going out of our comfort zones, but that does not include causing unnecessary stress and anxiety on our minds. So, step one, start by building up your confidence and tolerance gently, identify where your starting point is and go from there. It’s also okay if that starting point changes once you get back into the swing of things, it’s your own expectations you’re holding yourself to, and it’s completely okay for those expectations to fluctuate.
2. That leads me nicely onto step two. Try not to compare where you are with your progress, to where others are in theirs. More than ever we’re going to be at completely different stages. It’s important to give yourself credit without then diminishing it in comparison with others.
3. Moving to step three, celebrate both the big and the small wins. Acknowledge the fact that you’ve conquered something that you wouldn’t have the week before. That’s a huge thing, and something to be super proud of. It might seem small to others, and even ourselves, but it is so important to identify those baby steps, because in reality, they’re big wins.
4. Step four. Routine. Vary it. Within our isolated comfort zones at the moment, it’s likely we’ve got a pretty set routine of what we’re comfortable with. So naturally, part and parcel of coming out of that is going to be changing things up. Building up this new tolerance provides opportunity to not only introduce new steps into our days, but also to vary those steps.
5. Step five is quite literally about practical steps. What physical things can make you more comfortable in the outside world? A couple to bear in mind (when you’re at these stages) would be: sitting outside, choosing quieter times to visit places, keeping hand sanitiser handy, using contactless payment etc. These might seem obvious, but being caught up in the moment can sometimes allow us to lose focus of things that we can control. I find physical things like these helpful to put things back in perspective. More on this here.
6. Finally, step six. Try not to avoid social situations completely. You don’t want to get stuck in a rut, confusing comfort zone with isolation. Taking the first step is the hardest, but once it’s done everything else opens up that little bit more. It absolutely does not matter if you spend weeks at your starting point. What’s important is remembering you took that step for the starting point – and celebrating that.
Having Difficult Conversations
I feel like I can really speak from experience here. In my own situation last year, I was the nervous one. As daunting as it seemed to me – after making the step to actually tell my friends that I wasn’t sure what I’d be comfortable doing – I could not have been happier that I did have that conversation. By sharing my concerns with my friends, they have had the opportunity, not only to listen, but to suggest options that can include those of us who were a little more nervous (I’m sure they’ve put a lot more thought in to it, but it’s been done so subtly that it feels really natural).
Having that initial conversation can help progress in an even bigger way too: Once you’ve established a community and support system, making these baby steps can feel a lot easier, and suddenly you’re accomplishing pretty big milestones. Sitting in the Taf with more than 6 of your closest friends may seem a bit scary right now, but you’ll get there, and your friends will help you do it. Your friends are your friends for a reason, and they’re going to want to help you through this – help them understand where to start.
Perhaps before starting that conversation, it’s key for you to really establish how you feel. Take time to do this, and think rationally about what you’re ready (and not ready) for. It can be quite hard to differentiate between thinking logically verses emotionally when you’re in the moment, but it’ll come. When you get to talking later on, you can remind yourself that this was a thoughtful decision, made in a really tough time. Lauren Geall, a writer at Stylist Magazine, has been covering a lot of these Post Lockdown-esque topics, providing some really carefully thought out steps to help you call these shots, so do check that out here too.
Next, I would almost trial the conversation with a close friend privately first. Express where you’re at, and see if they can help you establish and rationalise your way through this initial stage. Healthy boundaries are not, and should not, be problematic, so talking to a trusted pal to establish these before taking it to the group chat can be a massive help. A really common thing associated with anxiety is spiralling in worrying about whether people are annoyed or upset with you. Remind yourself this isn’t the case (a lot easier said than done), but also remember that the feelings you want to express are valid, and that does not change just because they’re different to someone else’s.
Lastly, take a minute to breathe, and put things in perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in feeling left out or ignored, but remember to take a step back, and remind yourself it’s highly unlikely it’s being done on purpose (trying to keep up with the six person limit, then the four person one, then back to the six people is a little confusing – so there’s that barrier to consider too). It has been a really tough year, and more than likely, everyone has got caught up in the positives of being able to go out again. And in fairness, they’re not mind readers. So, articulating how you feel is not only a great skill to develop, but is also going to benefit everyone involved. Looking at that bigger picture will also remind you to tackle this with a positive mindset, rather than a negative one. All in all, it allows for a much more direct, faciliatory and productive conversation. The likelihood is that once you take that initial jump to start the conversation, they’ll be really understanding.
You Got a Friend in Me
How can you help a friend who is struggling to return to their social-self? Again, I think the first step is to allow for open communication; there may be feelings of embarrassment, fear or judgement. None of which we want to perpetuate. Make sure you’ve allowed for conversation in a supportive environment. You know your friends better than me – so, another approach may be to simply arrange a gathering that automatically accommodates for someone who is likely to feel quite nervous, without them having to tell you outright. Perhaps rather than the group chat blowing up with “pint?” every night, it might be worth popping something in about a picnic in a garden, where you can hint to social distancing and mask wearing as they wish. Like I say, you know your friends best – what can you do to reassure them?
If you are finding a return to normality a bit overwhelming, same. Why not reach out to the Student Advice team if you need to talk – you could also give our Buddy Scheme a look! We are not counsellors or clinical professionals but we can signpost you to a range of support services and can ask other professionals to get in touch with you too. Head here for some more info.
Remember, your tolerance may have changed. Maybe skim over our Personal Safety and Alcohol webpages to remind yourself about staying safe on the town (Yes Mum I hear you say).
Links for the people who know what they’re talking about
‘Has your anxiety over lockdown easing left you feeling isolated? Here’s how to cope’ - Stylist
‘Feeling overwhelmed about things going back to ‘normal’’ - Stylist
‘Worrying about post-lockdown plans’ - Stylist
‘Taking care of your mental health in the ‘new normal’’ - Stylist
‘Why post-lockdown anxiety is normal’ – Woman & Home
‘Coming out of lockdown: Tips for managing anxiety – BHF
‘Six ways to manage post-lockdown anxiety – Bupa
‘Post lockdown anxiety survey reveals mixed picture – Anxiety UK
‘Leaving lockdown may not be as easy as you think – Wateringbury Surgery
‘From lockdown to relaxation of covid rules: tips on looking after your mental health’ – Mental Health Foundation
This blog has been written by Charlie Mallinson from the Student Advice Team in the Students’ Union. If you would like further help and support with the issues raised in this blog, or any aspect of your student experience, please get in touch using the following links:
Contact Student Advice
+44 (0)2920 781410