Coming out of lockdown
April is Stress Awareness Month and Your Employee Wellbeing will be looking at various causes of stress, some strategies for coping with stress and some triggers of stress. 2020/21 has been unprecedented on all fronts and for many stress has figured high on the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Heading out of lockdown is not going to be without stress for many who have been shielding, been away from big groups of people and fear the transition. Geraldine Joaquim of Quest Hypnotherapy and Mind your business offers us some tips on easing the transition into the next steps in lockdown easing.
You might be forgiven for not being ready to throw your doors open and run out to your nearest High Street or indeed go back into the office quite yet!
Yes, we had some pretty positive news over recent weeks: the announcement of the vaccine with all its efficacy, it’s subsequent roll out to millions of Britons within a few short weeks has to be up there as ‘a great achievement’, the gradually reducing numbers of new Covid-cases and deaths – it also helps that Spring is in the air!
But it’s going to take more than five minutes with the new Roadmap to get us to shift our mindset after a whole year of living cautiously…
No wonder not everyone is feeling quite so excited about the prospect of coming out of lockdown.
‘Stay home, Stay safe’/’Stay homes, Save Lives’
They became our mantras, and that’s a pretty powerful message for the psyche, it hits right at the heart of our survival instincts so it’s not surprising that many people are feeling anxious about restrictions easing.
“These are unprecedented times” might have become an over-used phrase but it’s true – not many people have faced such uncertainty on this wide a scale.
And the pace of change has been unbalancing – one minute you’re at work, the next you’re working from home and trying to get to grips with new technology, becoming familiar with the mute button, fielding children and pets as you try to remain ‘professional’ on screen – or maybe even harder, having to continue to be out at work in the face of it all! Then came ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ which actively encouraged us to be in busy spaces again, another lockdown, another release…
Now wonder we’re a little unsteady on our feet and unwilling to trust this freedom quite yet!
Our brains need time to adjust
Venturing out, especially towards places where they will be lots of other people – getting on a train or bus, walking in crowds, being in a busy work environment – translates into leaving safety.
Our brains have evolved over millions of years to keep us safe, something we’ve been doing very nicely by staying at home. Near the base of your brain sits the Amygdala, a cluster of cells constantly scanning the environment and looking for potential threats, it promotes action using the primitive parameters of freeze-flight-fight, activating the Sympathetic Nervous System which releases stress hormones.
Throughout the Pandemic most of us have been in a heightened state of alertness – after all there is a very real threat to life out there! We’ve been overthinking consequences:
Should you wipe down every item of shopping?
Do you leave the post for 3 days before opening it?
Have you washed your hands enough?
And worrying about ourselves, our family, the behaviours of others, being disconnected from friends and loved ones.
The news and social media has heightened our sense of anxiety, reinforcing that it’s a dangerous world out there: the empty supermarket shelves, reports of people not conforming to social distancing (remember Bournemouth Beach last summer?), hearing that high profile people were contracting the virus (if they can get it, so can you!)
Let’s not forget the trials of managing childcare or home schooling and work!
And now we’re being asked to put all that aside and go forth into the world. It’s going to take a little adjustment.
Time to decompress
Making another change, no matter how positive it might seem, could bring out more anxiety and fear about how we’re going to cope and adapt once more – and for how long until it changes again?
We’ve all been in the same storm, but we’re in different boats!
And let’s remember that it’s not the same experience for everyone, for some people the past year has been a chance to slow down, a quieter pace of life, time spent with young children that would otherwise have been missed, so their fears may be about switching to a faster pace of life again.
Now is the time to decompress a little, to create an air lock between what has been and what is to come, a chance to relieve some of the pressure, re-adjust your thinking and just give yourself a mental break.
And these tips might help…
Tips to ease transition
1) Acknowledge your feelings. We all have them, they’re part of our human condition, and simply brushing off feelings of anxiety, fear or feeling low won’t help, they’ll bubble away in the background until they get too big to hold down. So acknowledge them, talk to people around you, your colleagues, friends, family – you’ll soon find that you’re not alone in having these thoughts and feelings and there is great comfort to be had in sharing them.
2) Be kind to yourself. This might seem a bit trite, but we are harder on ourselves than anyone else, think of what you would suggest a friend do if they came to you for advice. Would you tell them to suck it up and get on… or take a break, do something nice for them self. Looking after yourself is the first step in being able to support others.
3) Enjoy re-growing your personal contacts. Do it slowly, build on small steps rather than leaping back into what you did before, expecting it all to work out. Perhaps arrange to go into work for half a day, if you have to commute maybe go out of traditional rush hour (especially in the first couple of days of lockdown ending, no one knows how many people will be back on the trains and buses!), or go in for a couple of days starting on a Tuesday instead of Monday, work it out so that it eases you into being with other people. It’s going to feel a bit nerve-wracking at first but if you start small and build, your stress response system will cope so much better and you won’t feel overwhelmed.
4) Focus on the good stuff. Whilst we haven’t been able to celebrate the milestones we usually would there are still some good things we can still enjoy – maybe you’ve tried something new (did you join the baking craze?), learned a new skill, spent time with family, any achievement no matter how small – even if it was just getting up and showering in the mornings when you didn’t know what day it was! Our brains are predisposed to think negatively but we can re-train them to focus on the good stuff, and the more we do it the more we find. And don’t forget to celebrate your resilience – after all, it’s been a helluva year!
5) Be present. It can be easy to spend too much time overthinking about what’s going to happen, how you’re going to cope, what other people think, or endlessly ruminating on the past, but real life is here in front of you, in the present moment. Learn to switch off from the news and social media which feeds conjecture and opinion without giving much real new information, stay informed but not overwhelmed by it. Train your brain to be in the moment – if you need help, look into practices such as focused breathing, mindfulness, meditation, they are tools that help you harness your attention so you can direct it where you want to, not where it happens to be.
The last year has changed the way we live and work, but we’ve come through it. The transition into the ‘next normal’ will no doubt throw out a few curve balls, but you know you can cope. You can either dodge them or catch them, but do try not to let them hit you in the face!
The future is uncertain – but it always was.
Thank you to Geraldine Joaquim for this article.
Geraldine is one of the team of experts who work with Your Employee Wellbeing. Our wellbeing programmes are created to provide support to enable employees cope with whatever challenges they may face.
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