Freedom Day. How was it for you? If you found it daunting and uncomfortable to begin socialising beyond your immediate circle, then you are not alone. We’ve spent over a year mainly at home and following strict safety guidelines whenever out and about. It is an understandable and normal response to feel reluctant and uneasy about re-entering society.
“There are a lot of reasons why people might be feeling anxious about the full lifting of restrictions,” says Dr Lydia Kearney in a recent interview for Glamour magazine. Dr Kearney is an expert in social anxiety at the University of Kent’s School of Psychology. She says, “For some people, their main concern will be catching Covid or passing it on to others. For some, the things we haven’t experienced in a while – crowds, indoor dining, hugs – may themselves become an anxiety trigger. Others may not be able to pinpoint exactly what it is they’re worried about, only knowing that feel anxious.”
American psychiatrist Dr Arthur Bregman noticed this trend in the spring of 2021. He termed it ‘cave syndrome’, which is not a formal diagnosis of a condition but a way of describing the reluctance to step beyond your front door into the wider world. Dr Bregman has designed a simple approach to help people deal with the psychological impact of being removed from everyday social interactions due to the pandemic. He calls this the MAV approach, which stands for Mindfulness, Attitude, Vision. Here is my take on how to apply it:
- M stands for mindfulness. Think about what is driving your fear. Talk it over with someone you trust. Once you have identified what makes you anxious, make a list of what you are ready to do and what you are not. Think about what you might do to mitigate any worry. Note down the steps you will take. List the support that you will need from other people and the resources and time it will take.
- A stands for attitude. Foster a positive mental attitude. Pick something manageable that you previously enjoyed, such as walking in the park with a friend or drinking a coffee sitting outside a cafe relaxing as you watch the street scene. Do one new thing at a time rather than overload your mind and body with too much too soon.
- V stands for vision. Set your intention and make a plan. How about trying out a new hobby, joining an exercise class, or learn a new skill that interests you. Shift the focus away from what you don’t have and can’t do towards what you have and can do.
Remember that rebuilding confidence to do the things you used to do will take time. The long lockdown period has created new routines that will feel safe, and you may be unwilling to venture outside these boundaries. Even positive change can lead to anxiety, and it can take time to readjust to things you have not done for a while.
There are many ways to help you manage these feelings and make them easier to adjust. Give yourself a boost with regular self-care such as exercise, getting enough rest, spending time in the fresh air, listen to music and other activities that you enjoy that will help you keep your energy up.
Use the summer months to begin socialising with others in a way that feels safe to you. Be gentle with yourself and others. Each person will experience their response to lockdown changes differently. It is essential to take things at your own pace.
For future reading and practical support, take a look at the NHS Every Mind Matters top tips for taking care of your mental health as things change.
You will also find an excellent range of free resources that can help you manage difficult feelings about lockdown easing at Mind.org.uk, the mental health charity.
Remember that you are not alone and support is out there.
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