How Easing Of Restrictions Has Boosted Brits’ Mental Health
There’s no denying that seeing your mate for a few pints is a great feeling, but this social activity has been a distant memory for everyone until recently.
April 12 in the UK marked the day pubs could reopen their beloved beer gardens, along with other non-essential stores reopening – undeniably, seeing activity like this has boosted the country’s morale.
It’s not only morale that has been boosted, though. Socialising plays a huge part in people’s mental wellbeing, and many have seen an improvement in their mental health as lockdown restrictions are gradually eased.
Counsellor Michelle Ruth spoke to UNILAD about the proven benefits socialising can have on a person’s mental health. She explained, ‘We are social creatures. As humans, we have evolved as a species and now we look to others to seek comfort, gain trust, build confidence and feel a sense of belonging. It’s well documented that we function better when around others, both mentally and physically.’
Having been starved of real-life interactions for the past year, it’s no wonder so many people are feeling positive about the easing of lockdown restrictions, so that they can get back to being social creatures again. Interacting with others can stimulate our brain functioning – for example an increase in dopamine makes us happy as it’s a natural high and when we experience decreases in cortisol, we feel less stressed.
There’s also something very comforting about seeing shops and restaurants coming back to life again after being empty for so many months. Having a sense of possibility, of hope, is making people begin to imagine a future, after feeling like life was on pause for such a long time. Again, this can have a significant impact on our mental health. When we feel like we have something to live for, our mental health improves.
Mental health activist Nina White can attest to this. Lockdown took its toll on Nina’s mental health, as it did for many people, but since things have started to reopen again, she’s found her wellbeing slowly but surely starting to improve.
Explaining her mental health condition, Nina said: ‘I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and my symptoms have definitely worsened during the pandemic. I have what is known informally as Pure O, I have mental compulsions meaning I don’t really exhibit my compulsions outwardly.
‘Some of these mental compulsions include ruminating over past events to find evidence that support or refute my obsessions, constantly reviewing my thoughts or memories to seek certainty and basically ‘solve’ them, reassurance seeking (either by asking people or through self-reassurance through analysing) etc. Dealing with this is absolutely exhausting and it’s important to point out how the effects of this disorder can be manifested through physical symptoms too, such as nausea, heart palpitations, headaches and more.’
Discussing how the UK’s lockdowns affected her OCD, Nina further explained:
The third lockdown has definitely exacerbated all of these symptoms, probably due to the cumulative effect of basically being in lockdown for a whole year. This was probably the worst my OCD had got in a while, I found myself having frequent anxiety attacks and chronic migraines.
I noticed I wasn’t performing as well as I normally would at university and was feeling incredibly demotivated, I couldn’t concentrate on my studies at all. I’m currently in my final year of university and months before I am supposed to graduate I have taken an interruption of study to prioritise my mental health.
However, in light of restrictions being eased this month, she’s found her mental health improving. She credits swimming pools reopening, and seeing friends again, as the main things that have helped her mental wellbeing.
She said: ‘Now that pools have re-opened, I’ve started going swimming again which has played a massive part in my recovery process. After just one swim I have found that I was feeling a lot better within myself and it allowed me to calm down after an OCD episode.
‘Seeing my friends has really helped me feel like myself again too, it’s good to be able to feel distracted from all these horrible thoughts by being able to socialise again after being deprived of seeing each other in person for so long.’
Nina added that she believes she may have Seasonal Affective Disorder and, due to this, she also credits the nicer weather and brighter days as helping her mental health.
Journalist Julia has also seen her mental health improve as lockdown restrictions eased. Julia found lockdown badly affected her anxiety, especially as she’d use seeing her friends and going out to take her mind off her condition.
She told UNILAD:
Usually the process of making new memories – even the most forgettable of exchanges – would push anxious cyclical thoughts to the back of my mind for a bit, but the pandemic has left me alone with the past in many ways, in a way that’s been very confronting. I’ve also found that my agoraphobia has made an unwelcome return, with the thought of being outside by myself proving too much at times.
However, Julia said restrictions being eased has been a ‘huge boost’ for her as she’s now able to see family and friends again, and is able to start making plans for the future after the pandemic put a lot of these on hold.
Speaking about how important her friends are to her and her mental health, Julia explained: ‘The friends I have in my life now are very precious to me and it boosts my confidence no end to know that I am well liked and that I can speak easily with people in a way that would have been beyond me back in my early twenties. My friendships are a real point of pride for me, and always felt like reassurance that I had moved forward in life.’
Further discussing how she’s felt since socialising again, she said: ‘I’m absolutely loving sitting out, having a drink and chatting about things other than lockdown. The only thing is, I get so excited by the thought of seeing friends that I always go home afterwards thinking I’ve somehow messed it all up and that they hate me.’
Julia added: ‘This is the sort of thinking that’s affected me since I was young, but without the everyday practice of speaking with people, I’ve been panicking slightly more than usual. Fortunately, that niggling feeling is slowly going though, with the happy knowledge that – fingers crossed – I have a whole summer ahead to catch up and make new memories.’
While Julia has seen an improvement, it’s likely she isn’t alone in feeling a bit anxious about going out again after more than a year of being stuck at home.
Offering advice for those feeling anxious about venturing out again, Michelle told UNILAD, ‘There are some people who are understandably feeling very anxious about lockdown lifting. Some people have become very used to their worlds being smaller and many have preferred it – so the easing of lockdown may feel scary and overwhelming. I’d recommend that those people take their time, there is no rush, the beer gardens can wait! This is a big change for everyone, and we have to do things at our own pace and in a way that feels safe and comfortable.’
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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