How to maintain healthy lockdown habits when restrictions lift

·6-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

After months of confusion and anticipation, Boris Johnson has chosen to lift almost all coronavirus restrictions in England from Monday, dubbed ‘Freedom Day.’

This means that, in addition to social distancing rules being scrapped, people will no longer be legally obliged to wear face coverings in public places for the first time since June 2020. However, the prime minister said that people “might choose” to continue wearing them in areas where cases are rising and in enclosed spaces, such as public transport at peak hours.

The various lockdowns that have taken place over the last 18 months have been far from easy, particularly for those who were juggling childcare with full-time employment, and caring for loved ones who became unwell. It has been a difficult time. But that doesn’t mean everyone is ready for the world to snap back to normal right away.

Scientists have raised concerns about the sudden lifting of restrictions, calling it “reckless”, particularly given that Britain recorded 50,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest daily number in six months. But the government has insisted that the rollout of vaccines will lower the number of people becoming seriously ill.

Safety aside, there are other concerns that people have about lockdown lifting on Monday. As restrictions have continued to lift in recent months, many people have experienced re-entry anxiety, a term used to describe the fears and concerns people have about post-pandemic life. Marc Hekster, consultant psychologist at The Summit Clinic in north London, previously explained to The Independent that re-entry anxiety is defined by a “fear of the unknown and the loss of this period of safety created by the enforced lockdown into our homes”.

The idea of loss might seem strange to those who simply cannot wait for the world to reopen. But research shows it’s a legitimate feeling for some, because despite how tough the lockdowns have been, there have been some unexpected joys. A recent survey from YouGov identified what Britons will miss most once lockdown is over, with the main things being: spending more time with family and partners, having a slower or simpler life, peace and quiet, and not having to deal with pressure to socialise.

“Lockdown was harsh and a somewhat unique and worrying experience. However, there may be some lingering good habits worth maintaining as we return to normal,” says Lorraine Sherr, head of the health psychology unit at the Institute of Global Health, pointing to simple things like walking more and learning to appreciate your local area, both of which can have huge psychological benefits in the long-term.

“We also saw how work patterns could be juggled, and became more organised and constructive,” she adds. “Lockdown gave us a lens to view our past. So rarely do we pause and take stock.”

Lockdown was harsh and a somewhat unique and worrying experience. However there may be some lingering good habits worth maintaining as we return to normal

Lorraine Sherr

Clinical psychologist and author of The Imposter Cure, Dr Jessamy Hibberd, adds that many people have also discovered new hobbies during lockdown. “It could be exercise, cooking, gardening, or anything really. The extra time has allowed people to focus on the simpler things in life and spend more time being creative at home.”

Another thing that was singled out in the YouGov study was the absence of FOMO (fear of missing out) during lockdown. With no social calendar, many people found themselves feeling more at ease, with one in 20 Britons (five per cent) saying they will miss the lack of pressure to socialise as things reopen, and, as a result of not going out with friends, having more money to do things in their spare time. One participant said: “There’s something quite calming about knowing that nothing is going on so you aren’t missing anything”.

How, then, can we maintain all this as the world opens up again? Is it possible to keep this sense of calm when our hour-long commutes return along with our social calendars? The answer, suggests Dr Hibberd, is yes, so long as you learn how to manage your time efficiently. “It’s important not just to say yes to everything, but to consider what you want to do and to only say yes to the things that boost your mood and make you feel good about yourself,” she suggests. “Be selective about what you say yes to and don’t be afraid to say no to the rest.”

Be selective about what you say yes to and don’t be afraid to say no to the rest

Dr Jessamy Hibberd

It’s important to remember, too, that just because we are going to regain some of the normalities of life, that doesn’t mean that the stress of the pandemic will simply disappear. “The cumulative effect of everything we’ve been through will take time to work through,” Dr Hibberd adds. “Rather than just slipping back into over-scheduling, I think it can be helpful to use this time to re-evaluate what’s important to you and to actively start to incorporate the things that matter to you into your routine.”

One way of doing this is to look back on the things you missed the most when you were in lockdown. “How can you begin to incorporate these things back into your life? Were you surprised to find that there were things or people you really didn’t miss? Is there a way for you to let go of these or do them less now we’re out of lockdown?” asks Dr Hibberd. “I think it’s important to make active choices about what you do or don’t want to do so that you emerge from the pandemic holding on to the things that have made a difference to you.”

Another thing that might help is to reflect on any silver linings you might have noticed in lockdown. Perhaps you became closer with your housemates, partner, or family members, for example. “At a time when life has been so difficult for so many, it can feel strange to think about benefits, but often when we go through something traumatic it can bring into sharper focus what we do have,” says Dr Hibberd. This way of thinking can help us find positive ways to move forward, with research showing that overcoming challenging times can lead to a period of personal growth.

“The pandemic has forced many of us to think about our lives differently, both personally and professionally,” adds Dr Hibberd. “Use what you’ve discovered to your advantage as you move slowly back to a new normal. Whatever you do next, make sure you do it consciously.”

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