How to combat end of COVID-19 lockdown anxiety

Many people have not had to deal with crowds, busy shopping centres or public transport commutes in months, however, that is all about to change. Picture: Shutterstock
Many people have not had to deal with crowds, busy shopping centres or public transport commutes in months, however, that is all about to change. Picture: Shutterstock

Whether it's organising a barbecue, planning a family reunion or booking that long awaited haircut - there is plenty to look forward to now that NSW has officially 'reopened'.

But, for some, the state's long-awaited freedoms will pose new challenges which can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress and fear.

Many people have not had to deal with crowds, busy shopping centres or public transport commutes in months, however, that is all about to change.

The Black Dog Institute's clinical psychologist and senior clinical research manager, Dr Sophie Li said it was normal to feel apprehensive about getting back to 'normal'.

"This is true for anyone, but particularly for people that experienced anxiety prior to the pandemic," she said.

"If you are concerned about crowded places, like supermarkets, shopping centres or restaurants it is okay to take your time readjusting to post-lockdown life by slowing easing back into the activities you engaged in prior to lockdown.

"It is okay to say no to events or situations you don't feel comfortable with at first."

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However, Dr Li said it was important not to entirely avoid these situations.

"This is because the more we avoid, the scarier it becomes and the harder it is to overcome our concerns," she said.

"Start with something manageable - like socialising outdoors with a few people you are comfortable with, to build your confidence.

"Then gradually work your way up to larger crowds, such as shops, pubs or other larger venues. Also, remember, most venues will have restrictions on the number of people per square meter and caps on the number of people allowed on the premises.

"These restrictions will gradually ease, helping you take it step by step and slowly ease back into 'normal' life."

Dr Li said individuals would deal with the easing of restrictions differently.

She said some would be excited and ready to dive in, whereas others might feel anxious or overwhelmed.

"Feelings of apprehension most likely stem from a concern, no matter how large or small, that a return to 'normal' life will lead to unwanted outcomes - such as contracting the virus, becoming sick or passing the virus onto loved ones," she said.

"Two surveys we conducted at the Black Dog Institute during the first lockdown found that many adults and adolescents were worried about contracting COVID-19 and were also worried about passing it on to loved ones."

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Dr Li said it was important for those experiencing feelings of anxiety or apprehension to talk to their relatives and friends about their fears.

"While you cannot control the behaviour of other people, you can let them know what they can do to make you feel more comfortable as you ease back into 'normal' life," she said.

"This might include requesting people practice physical distancing, meet in an outdoor space or wear masks.

"If you are concerned about interacting with unvaccinated people you can ask friends and family their vaccination status.

"However, keep in mind, this may be a sensitive topic for some people, so it is important to remain polite and non-judgemental."

Dr Li offered the following tips to manage any anxiety you may have about transitioning out of lockdown and/or contracting COVID-19:

  • Reassure yourself that things will get better. We have experienced an extraordinary large-scale event; however, the COVID-19 threat will pass.
  • Limit the time you spend reading media reports about the virus. Also, consume information from reliable sources, such as the NSW Health and Service NSW websites.
  • Think logically about the risks. While the pandemic has undoubtedly led to tragedy for some individuals and families, the consequences of contracting COVID-19 vary between individuals. For example, if you are vaccinated the risks are much lower. Keep in mind, most people infected with COVID-19 in Australia have recovered.
  • Reducing how much attention you pay to your body. Focusing too much on our bodies can result in noticing things we normally wouldn't notice, which can increase anxiety. Instead, focus on other things, such as enjoyable activities.
  • Ease back into your pre-lockdown life. Take it slowly to gradually build confidence and overcome your fears.
  • Focus on what you can control. Engage in the recommended strategies to contain the spread of the virus, such as wearing masks, hand hygiene and keeping an appropriate physical distance from others. Look after your mental and physical health by sleeping well, engaging in physical activity, doing fun or relaxing activities and staying socially connected.
  • Get professional help when you notice the signs that your worry and anxiety is getting out of hand. A good place to start is by talking to your GP or psychologist, but you can also try an evidence based online program for health anxiety, such as This Way Up's Health Anxiety Course.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing a personal crisis, please seek help immediately by calling 000 or one of these services:

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511
This story How to combat end-of-lockdown anxiety first appeared on Newcastle Herald.