Day 155: I suspect everybody reading this has been impacted by the Coronavirus Pandemic in some way. Lockdown measures have created a wave of anxiety that was been felt across the globe. I have spoken to people living in Spain, France and the US who have had not too dissimilar experiences. For me in England the lockdown didn’t feel too bad to start with. My employer was sympathetic and supportive. I enjoyed the novelty of home schooling my children, working into the evening and generally being antisocial. I read more. I watched more TV. I walked more. For me the novelty soon wore off though and my drinking intensified as my isolation became more prominent. I thought I’d appreciate the reopening of the World but I have a mix of emotions towards it. I’m neither scared nor excited. I’m kind of on my guard and wary. For some, the return to “normal” life may be downright frightening. As restrictions continue to lift across most places a lot of research I’ve seen shows that more people than we’d maybe expect are feeling anxious to reconnect.
Numerous surveys throughout the pandemic found that unsurprisingly levels of depression and anxiety were much higher than normal. It’s no secret that diagnosed mental health disorders have been on the rise year on year for the last few decades as our lives become more complex and fast paced. I live in a Country where we work some of the longest hours in the working week globally. Throw in a pandemic and it’s a sad but expected pandemic of a different sort we have on our hands. Look at me, I was already somebody who was a diagnosed depressive who managed this with medication and counselling. What I thought would play out well for me (working from home, the chance to be antisocial and save money, etc.) soon turned into an excuse to stop talking to people, drink my anxiety away and stop caring about how I looked or felt.
This wave of mental health issues across the UK and beyond is being described as a potential ‘mental health crisis’ – and while this is a trend that health experts will continue to monitor closely, there are also concerns when it comes to how well people will readjust once restrictions are lifted.
Researchers are particularly concerned about those with social anxiety and I’d agree. That is the type of anxiety I have felt most of all in recent months as social interaction has been allowed with less restrictions in place. While many are excited to reconnect with their friends, family, and work colleagues, those with social anxiety may experience anxiety as they begin to socialise again. One reason for this may be due to a reduction in social exposure. I look at my life pre-pandemic for example. I worked full time in an office full of people in a role where engaging with colleagues face to face in meetings and presentations was a norm. I went to football matches and loved the pub. I facilitated a weekly Quiz Night at my village pub. Then nothing for 18 months.
I’ve read in the past that when treating social anxiety, one of the main evidence-based treatments is exposure therapy. Since social interactions have been limited over the last year and a half for most of us the thought of returning to social gatherings may cause symptoms of social anxiety to flare up. I certainly felt that recently when I went into a pub with my family for a meal. Even more so when I entered a cricket stadium with 7,000 other supporters.
Those of us diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder may experience heightened anxiety as society learns to readjust to the new “norm” — but we are not the only ones who are likely to struggle. It is believed that those who experienced psychological conditions, such as social anxiety or compulsive disorders such as OCD prior to the pandemic will have struggled massively and developed other conditions such as depression or addiction. All that said there have been many people with pre-existing conditions who have actually coped well during the pandemic because of their prior life experiences with diagnosed disorders. The lockdowns and lack of spontaneity day to day suited some people well. Returning to the hustle and bustle will be the challenge.
Whether feelings of anxiety are new to you or you were actively seeking support for an anxiety disorder prior to COVID, there is a wide range of strategies available that can help you feel less anxious. I can’t speak more highly than exploring talking therapies. There are so many avenues available whether that is via your Doctor, a charity or privately via a Therapist. I find writing and reading helps me a lot. It’s a distraction and it allows me to empty my mind when I jot things down. Look at yesterday with my Black Hole post. I felt down, confused and agitated. That was my way of letting it out.
I recently finished an Anxiety Management course via the NHS and one of the things I was encouraged to do was decompartmentalise (love that word) my social life. Not to worry about what was beyond the next day. If I had a social engagement next week it shouldn’t be in my mind today. I was worrying about a weekend away with my friends to Liverpool but it’s months away. By all means plan and organise the event to suit you (decide when you’ll arrive / leave and how you will get there, etc.) but as for the anxious thinking of ‘will I be ok?’, ‘what will I do if this happens?’, ‘how will I cope around drunk people?’ – it’s all hypothetical at the moment because it is in the future and I won’t know until I’m there. It might sound pretty basic advice but when I left hospital I was so broken and keen to recover that I had to focus on an hour at a time, a day at a time and I still try to live by that method now. I might be having a bad day today so any thinking about a social event next week will be steeped in negative thinking. It’s not important today. What is important is getting through this bad day. What works for me? What will distract me? What will get me to tomorrow?
So as the World returns to a new normal and our restrictions are eased we should all commend ourselves for surviving the pandemic but don’t be afraid to admit that we want to just dip our toe in the water before we go jumping back in again!