As of Wednesday 13th May, the UK government has started easing the lockdown rules that have been in place since late March. In England at least, people are being encouraged to return to work if they can’t work from home as long as it’s safe, and an optimistic timeline has been released as to when schools will return and non-essential businesses can reopen.
While on the surface this is good news, over the last few months social distancing has become the new normal. We’ve spent a lot of time adjusting to a considerably different lifestyle, and many of us have gotten used to our new routine. Changing back might be harder than we think.
Doing things that were once second nature, such as being in a busy office, or even driving to work, might seem overwhelming to us. One problem is that after being constantly told to avoid contact with others and stay at home, suddenly doing the opposite seems unnatural and even dangerous.
We’ve overcome one set of stressors. However, the phased return to normal hasn’t brought relief, but simply a new set of stressors. Here’s some advice to hopefully help you back into your old routine.
Why would we be anxious about the end of lockdown?
It has been argued that the government’s constant message to ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ has almost been too effective. Professor Robert Dingwall from Nottingham Trent University said the government’s message had instilled such a fear of catching coronavirus that even when an exit strategy is found, people would be scared to go out.
The change in slogan to ‘Stay Alert’ was received with confusion and derision due to the lack of solid guidelines that many people look for in a time of crisis. Although we now have more freedom to go out and exercise, this time without restriction and wherever we like, it seems the population feel uneasy about lifting social distancing measures.
Some might feel that the easing of restrictions has come too soon, and that a second wave of COVID-19 infections could occur in the near future. Concern about this is totally understandable. Given that the message of keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe has entirely depended on avoiding social contact, the idea of meeting up again might not seem right.
From another point of view, some people may experience sadness at the loss of things they may have gained during lockdown. They may have seen more of their family, learned new skills, or reconnected with friends they hadn’t heard from in a while. The shared experience of the crisis built a sense of camaraderie that may end up disappearing again.
What would our stressors be?
Stress about the end of lockdown can come in many ways and can be highly personal. However, we’ve tried to pick out a few common thoughts and concerns that people may have.
Are our children safe at school?
The Department for Education (DfE) wants children back in primary schools in a phased reopening starting from 1st June, with class sizes limited to 15 and a staggered timetable to limit the number of pupils and risk of transmission.
The government has said it wants children in reception, year one and year six to be back in school first with other primary years joining later, but headteachers have raised concerns about problems with physical distancing for younger children and health risks for pupils and staff.
Ultimately, parents do not have to send their children back to school if they do not believe they will be safe. More guidelines are sure to be revealed before June, but the government has already said that parents will not be fined if their children do not attend.
Am I safe at work?
The government has encouraged people who cannot work from home to return to work. Employers who have reopened should be adhering to coronavirus safety guidelines ensuring social distancing within the workplace.
If an employee is not happy with the measures taken in their workplace, they should speak to their employer and raise their concerns as soon as possible. If they still feel their concerns are not being taken seriously, the government has advised to report it to the local authority or Health and Safety Executive who can take further action.
Can I trust others to do the right thing?
While we can always choose to do the right thing and limit our social contact with others, unfortunately there are other people who won’t take it as seriously. All we can do in this situation is do our best to avoid them.
If you feel people are not adhering to social distancing rules at work, report it to your employer. If it’s outside of work and is someone you know, such as a friend or member of your family, you can try politely asking them to be more considerate and explain why it makes you so concerned.
However, when it comes to strangers there’s not too much we can do. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of people are keeping themselves and others safe and are doing the right thing, even if at times it seems like everyone else has given up.
Keep in mind that media reports of large gatherings and poor behaviour make the news and trend on social media because they are so rare and actually not the norm.
Will I get used to a faster pace of life?
In the same way we had to get used to lockdown, we’ll have to readapt to returning to a more ‘normal’ way of living. The lockdown sounds like it is going to be lifted very gradually, which is good for us as we can slowly adjust.
Remember that you are more adaptable than you think. A few months ago the current scenario would have seemed almost unthinkable. However, you have managed to change your lifestyle and routine and come this far. The same will apply once the world opens up again.
How can we manage stressors?
Once you have identified your stressors, you can divide them into three groups; those with a practical solution, ones that will get better with time, and those you cannot do anything about. You can take control of the situation by concentrating on the things you can change.
Although it might sound overly simplistic, breaking a problem down into smaller parts can make it a lot more manageable. Dealing with each part one-by-one has both the effect of solving the problem and creating the positive feeling of being proactive.
For example, if you were nervous about driving to work after not using a car for two months, start by taking a short trip out so you get used to it. If you were concerned about seeing people after self-isolating, get used to being in the presence of others by going for a walk in the park. Slowly build it up rather than combining all the worries up into one big problem.
It pays to challenge the negative thoughts that take place in our inner monologue. Once you know you have to return to work, you may think that you’ll suddenly be overwhelmed due to being in a now unfamiliar workspace.
However, if you were to give yourself advice to challenge that thought, you may argue that it’s somewhere you were once completely familiar with and so can be again. Going further, you could see it as a positive. For example, it gives you the chance to reconnect with work friends you haven’t seen for a while.
It can be beneficial to ask yourself the following questions to gain perspective:
- What am I reacting to? Why is it having this effect on me?
- What would the situation look like to someone else?
- What would I say if I was advising someone else?