Brits Left Feeling ‘Nervous’ And ‘Deeply Disappointed’ In Government Following Freedom Day
As Brits are encouraged to go about their lives in a somewhat normal manner following the lifting of restrictions, some have spoken out about the impacts the government’s decision has had on their mental health.
After more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions due to COVID-19, the prospect of so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19 offered a light at the end of the tunnel; the idea that life would be able to fully return to normal, with rules dropped and little need to worry about the spread of coronavirus.
With Freedom Day having now been and gone, it’s evident the reality is very different, with the spread of cases still prevalent and the aptly named ‘pingdemic’ frequently reminding thousands of people that ‘freedom’ isn’t necessarily a given when there’s a virus affecting not just the UK but the whole world.
Everyone has reacted differently to the lifting of restrictions, and while some have been able to take it in their stride, with complete vaccination cards in their pockets and fears of the spread quietened by the excitement to get back outside, others are experiencing ongoing feelings of anxiety and confusion about the situation.
Sunny, a 31-year-old from Birmingham, described herself as feeling ‘worried, nervous and extremely anxious’ as soon as the government confirmed Freedom Day would be going ahead on July 19.
The decision surprised her when taking into account that many people are yet to be fully vaccinated, the ongoing spread of infections and the fact that there is ‘so much about the virus we don’t know’. Sunny admitted she is ‘deeply disappointed that the government would put people’s lives at risk again’ by lifting restrictions.
With officials having stuck by their decision, however, Sunny now lives in fear of ‘whether or not [she’s] doing enough to protect [herself] and mostly those who are vulnerable’ when out and about.
Sunny is far from alone in her fears, with a recent survey of more than 10,000 people conducted by the mental health charity Mind revealing that 55% feel worried about seeing and being near others as restrictions lift, while 44% are concerned about the risk of catching the virus.
Harry, a 16-year-old college student from Merseyside, was among those who were initially excited about Freedom Day as he was looking forward to being able to do ‘everything we used to be able to do without any risk or worries that we could get a fine for it’.
As the day got closer, however, Harry started to become more nervous and, like Sunny, felt confused about the government’s plans. The teen explained that his mother, a health care worker and community carer, struggled without clear guidance about whether she still had to wear a mask in work, prompting her to have to go to her company about their preferences.
It was this lack of information which ‘really shook’ Harry as Freedom Day approached, and as he was ineligible for the vaccine he started to fear whether the lifting of restrictions would cause a risk to his health.
Rosie Weatherley, Information Content Manager at Mind, noted that clearer rules during lockdown may have allowed for day-to-day activities and public behaviour to feel more ‘certain or predictable’, meaning the recent changes can be ‘challenging to deal with’.
Speaking to UNILAD, Harry explained that while he is ‘excited to see life getting back to normal’, he feels ‘very nervous’ in public spaces and on public transport. The thought of being in a crowded space without mask mandates has left him ‘less enthusiastic to leave the house’, and for these reasons he has ‘not really changed [his] behaviour since the peak of the pandemic.’
Harry still wears his mask in shops and on public transport, as it makes him ‘feel safe’ and like he is ‘doing [his] part’, though he hopes ‘everyone will be sensible when it comes to protecting others’.
Similarly, whenever Sunny goes out she continues to wear a mask and sticks to social distancing guidelines, with the hope that other people would behave the same way. With many happy to leave the masks behind, however, the 31-year-old avoid crowded places, and only goes out when it’s essential.
Rosie told UNILAD it’s important to remember there is no ‘normal’ response to changes to restrictions, adding: ‘Feelings can change daily and may be affected by lots of things that are outside of our control’.
When explaining his ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, Boris Johnson repeatedly used the phrase ‘cautious but irreversible’, suggesting that the return of restrictions is unlikely.
It is undoubtedly true that we cannot live under lockdown forever, but with the prospect of ‘normal life’ sparking feelings of anxiety and fear, it is debatable as to whether taking the plunge with Freedom Day was the right thing to do at this particular time.
Many people have been forced to rely on their own methods of coping with the lifting of restrictions, with Harry eagerly awaiting his turn to receive the vaccine for assurance that he has ‘less chance of dying, or being admitted to hospital’, while Sunny has turned to ‘grounding techniques’ to help get her through the day.
One grounding technique involves me naming five things I can see, four things I can hear, three things I can smell, two things I can taste, one thing I can touch (this is almost always my hand sanitizer). This is the one I use the most.
Another involves me breathing deeply and noticing my breathing.
For others feeling anxious or worried about the easing of lockdown, Rosie recommended taking things ‘at your own pace’ and giving yourself ‘time to adjust’.
It might help to talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling, such as a friend, family member or health professional. Having someone listen and show they care, can help in itself – Mind’s online peer support community – Side by Side – is available to anyone aged 18 and over with a mental health problem and provides a safe place for people to share their experiences and hear from others about their mental health.
If you notice changes to your thoughts, feelings and behaviours that last longer than two weeks, keep returning, and are affecting your daily life – such as work and relationships – speak to someone you trust. Your GP should be able to talk you through support available and most GP surgeries are offering consultations via phone or video at the moment so check to see what’s available.
Consideration will be key in moving forward and hoping to establish a sense of ‘normality’ in society, with vaccinations, frequent testing and sensible behaviour now more important than ever.
It is vital to take into account the knowledge that Freedom Day does not mean everyone feels ‘free’, and aim to support each other through the next stages as we try to curb coronavirus from further spread.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article, you can find support through Mind’s website, its confidential Infoline on 0300 123 3393, and its network of local Minds, who continue to deliver high quality, coronavirus-safe services in England and Wales.
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