After One Year Of Lockdowns, People Aren’t Sure Whether They Can Face Crowds Again
‘From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.’
These were the words of Prime Minister Boris Johnson on this day, March 23, last year, when Britain entered its first full lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak. At the time, we had little idea how long the restrictions would really last, with many of us optimistic that things would start getting back to normal when the government reviewed the measures three weeks later.
One year on, and we are currently working our way out of what turned out to be the third nationwide lockdown. The end is in sight, with almost all restrictions currently set to be lifted by June 21, but after 12 months of staying at home, keeping our distance and actively being anti-social, the prospect of being thrown back into ‘normality’ can be a daunting one.
Leah, a 22-year-old student in England, told UNILAD all the impacts of lockdown took a while to really sink in for her.
She explained that she ‘didn’t mind’ the idea at first, admitting that, like many of us, she ‘didn’t expect it to last long at all’. As an introvert, Leah was ‘looking forward to some time without any work or social commitments’ and having some time to herself.
When restrictions eased slightly in summer 2020, Leah was able to enjoy the end of her school year and make the most of the freedom that came with pubs and restaurants being open. However, when autumn rolled around things ‘suddenly seemed a lot worse’.
What, at first, seemed like it was going to be a few weeks indoors with freedom from commitments suddenly turned in to being what is now basically a year-long lockdown.
Uni started again and online learning is unexpectedly draining. I know I’m in a better position than a lot of people – I have a home, food, a good support network – but even with all of that I still feel like I’m struggling.
After a tough few months, Johnson announced his roadmap out of lockdown, with non-essential retail allowed to open its doors and restaurants welcoming customers outside from April 12. The easing of restrictions is essentially a good thing, but the crowds, commitments and concerns that come with it are proving intimidating to many people.
Leah told UNILAD the thought of socialising and being around crowds makes her ‘so nervous [she] could throw up’, adding: ‘I know I should be happy, but it feels so daunting. Pressure to socialise, work commitments, university commitments – I’m just not used to that way of life anymore.’
The 22-year-old pointed out that she hasn’t socialised in a large group in almost a year, and she doesn’t think she knows ‘how to be in large groups anymore’.
My uni course has gone back to face to face learning for one day a week. I feel like I’m struggling with just that because I’m just not use to it anymore. It’s almost as if my brain’s re-wired itself during lockdown and now it doesn’t know how to work in normal society.
Her friends are ‘really excited’ to go out, but their enthusiasm only serves to make Leah ‘feel even more anxious.’ She admitted that she felt there was ‘something wrong’ with her as ‘the majority of people’ she knows don’t feel the same way – but Leah is definitely not alone in her feelings.
Rosie Weatherley, Information Content Manager at the mental health charity Mind, explained: ‘It’s important to remember that there is no ‘normal’ response to changes to lockdown, and your feelings may be affected by lots of things that are outside of your control. Your feelings may also change day to day.’
Rosie stressed that lockdown ‘has been difficult for many people’, and said ‘everyone responds to change differently’.
While some of us are looking forward to more freedom and being able to reunite with loved ones, for others, these changes could cause further disruption and discomfort…
Many of us may feel like we’ve finally established a routine and some of us might even have found some unexpected benefits to lockdown. For example, for those of us who prefer socialising with fewer people, lockdown may have provided a break from pressures around socialising.
We might also have found that we prefer a slower pace of life, with more free time. So being presented with the opportunity to spend more time with others – even things we previously enjoyed, like socialising in busier places and returning to our workplace – could feel stressful, daunting or overwhelming.
Drew Thomas, a 27-year-old singer/songwriter from North West London, enjoyed spending the first few months of lockdown with his housemates, finding ‘liberation and relief’ in his lack of control over the situation.
In recent months, however, he’s struggled more with finding the motivation to conduct day-to-day tasks and making plans for the future. Being restricted in his movements for the best part of a year has left him with little inspiration for song writing, and even when Johnson announced the roadmap out of lockdown, Drew said he was ‘quite pessimistic about how realistic [he] thought it was’.
As a result of the pandemic, the 27-year-old believes he’s become ‘a massive over-thinker’ when it comes to socialising. Wearing masks and social distancing have become ‘like second nature’, so Drew anticipates being ‘really anxious when the restrictions are fully lifted’.
A part of me can’t wait to see people properly again but… Even with friends or in Zoom calls with people I know, I mentally have to prepare myself and usually end up not being able to finish sentences without every word coming out in the wrong order.
Drew expects he’ll be ‘out loads’ to ‘make up for lost time’ when restrictions are first eased, though as the end of lockdown creeps ever closer, Rosie noted that it’s important not to put pressure on yourself to make lots of lifestyle changes all at once.
She recommended gradually easing in to old habits and routines, adding: ‘If you are feeling daunted or reticent about life after lockdown, talk to the people around you about how you’re feeling and what you’re finding difficult. It can be hard to start talking about this, but lots of people find that sharing their experiences can help.’
Rosie also highlighted the importance of looking after both our physical and mental health as we wrap our heads around a life without restrictions, recommending ‘staying hydrated or trying to keep active at home or outdoors’, as well as expressing feelings about the end of lockdown creatively, by ‘painting, writing, drawing or any other way that feels helpful to you.’
Leah said she is ‘looking forward to getting a routine back’, ‘having more of a purpose’ and being able to see her friends and family whenever she wants, but she’s planning on easing herself back into socialising, saying: ‘I think if I go all in I’ll just break.’
I’m not sure if some of my friends will understand. And that scares me because I don’t want to let anyone down. It’s going to be a slow process for me and I’ll have bad days but I’m so excited for when everything’s finally back to normal.
Rosie acknowledged these kinds of fears as she stressed the importance of not putting pressure on other people, and emphasised that it’s always okay to ask for help when it comes to mental health.
She said: ‘The NHS still want you to do this during the pandemic and a good place to start is by speaking to your GP. The NHS and other services have also adapted to the pandemic and may offer video or telephone appointments if you need to speak to someone.’
While the gradual re-opening of the country at least allows us time to deal with each new step as it comes, it’s natural to be nervous about what the world will look like after a year of lockdowns.
The next few weeks will allow us to prepare, but don’t feel pressured to be out every second of every day just because you can. Everyone moves at their own pace, and as Rosie pointed out, there is no correct way to approach the return to ‘normality’.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and need any help thinking through your options for support, contact Mind’s Infoline from Monday-Friday, 9am to 6pm on 0300 123 3393.
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