The Simple Things
The social dilemma
If the thought of leaving your quiet cocoon to venture ‘out out’ again is making your head spin, there are less stressful ways to enjoy your new freedom
“Im worried I’m going to feel like a kid ’ who’s been really excited about their birthday party and when it finally comes, they get overwhelmed and hide in their bedroom!”; “I want to see my friends and sit in a pub but the thought of getting dressed up, putting make-up on and staying up after 10pm makes me feel tired already!” These words are from women who, like the rest of us, are looking forward to a return to normal. A life when they can meet friends and family, gather in restaurants and pubs or in each other’s houses, perhaps even start going out to work again. And while there’s much to celebrate and some people will throw themselves back into it all without a second’s thought, there are a plenty of others like them who’ll be feeling some trepidation as we readjust, again, to another new normal.
Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author of new book The Leader’s Guide to Resilience (FT Publishing International), runs stress management workshops and says the question of ‘how to manage panic when going
out’ has come up in every session since June 2020. While there are people who have suffered from social anxiety previously, there will be others who have never experienced anxiety before. According to Dave Smithson from Anxiety UK (anxietyuk.org.uk), data shows anxiety levels are higher than they were pre-pandemic with the latest lockdown causing another spike. “When our general anxiety levels are higher, we’re more attuned to fear and worry,” he says. “And the messages we’ve received over the past 12 months about staying at home, keeping a distance from each other, and staying safe, all play on the unconscious mind.”
Behind anxious thoughts lie fears and fear has a number of causes, some conscious and many unconsciously learned. For example, you might think you’re not especially worried about catching the virus, but maybe you’re unconsciously more fearful of it than you realise. “It’s understandable to think, ‘if it was so bad that I couldn’t shop with a member of my family a few weeks ago, what makes it any better now?’” says Dr Tang. “And although the vaccines provide up to 95% protection,
5% is still an outcome. It’s not easy to make that shift in mindset to suddenly feel comfortable. Unfortunately, another trigger may be that people have lost loved ones within the pandemic.” Dave says that panicky feelings are more likely to be about the virus itself than a result of agoraphobia and a gentle easing back into socialising, rather than filling your diary with multiple arrangements, will help get you used to going out and feeling safe again.
Another reason for a newfound fear of going out is a reluctance to go back to how things were before. While you might be bursting to go out for a meal with close friends or to hear some live music, there might be some things you didn’t enjoy so much and can’t honestly say that you’ve missed. Or, you might simply have enjoyed having more free time to just ‘be’ rather than ‘do’. “For many people, myself included, lockdown enabled some time to re-assess priorities,” says Dr Tang. “In doing so, we began to realise that we didn’t really want to do all the things we were doing before – and lockdown was in some ways a nice excuse not to do them. For example, at Christmas when I didn’t have to go anywhere and wasn’t worried about looking bad because I didn’t want to go anywhere, it was one of the most peaceful times of my life.” Dr Tang explains how for some people, like herself, it’s important to ‘come clean’ and own the fact that they enjoy solitude and that it’s important to our wellbeing. If you can relate to this, writing down what you would like to do but also what you want to keep will help prevent the new normal becoming the ‘old overwhelmed’.
If you’ve been sharing a home, office and life 24/7 with your partner or family members, going out and socialising with lots of people might not be top of your priority list. Catching half an hour to read a book in your favourite café where nobody can disturb you could be more what you’re craving. On the other hand, if you live alone and work from home and have spent more time on your own than you’d ideally choose to, you may well be craving some company, but feel a bit out of practice and uncertain about where and how you’d like to meet up with people again. There are also many people experiencing financial pressures and an uncertainty about the future which can itself cause low mood, depression and anxiety. “One of the most important things to remember is that while we’ve all faced the same storm we’re not all in the same boat and what we need, what we want, and what we hope for is not going to be the same as everyone else,” says Dr Tang.
As well as personal circumstances, Dr Tang says our personalities will play an important role in how we’re feeling right now, specifically how we prefer to recharge. “Introverts are likely to have found that while they of course have the skill and ability to perform in any capacity their work requires, they have enjoyed being able to stay at home and recharge without worrying about saying ‘no’ to invitations or what they ‘should’ be doing. Extroverts, on the other hand, may have been coping admirably but are in huge need of a chance to go out and give other people a hug. The excitement that the extrovert feels about lifting lockdown is perhaps met with dread by the introvert who is thinking ‘now I need to make excuses again,’ or ‘how can
I say no without being rude?’”
One of the things a lot of people say they’ve
While we’ve all faced the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat
The excitement extroverts feel about lifting lockdown is perhaps met with dread by introverts
enjoyed about lockdown is the lack of pressure. Those of us who get bouts of FOMO (fear of missing out) or compare ourselves with others will have felt more able to relax because we aren’t missing out on anything. We’ve been able to appreciate what we have more – our homes, gardens and, if we’re lucky, the people we love. “We’ve used technology as more of a tool rather than a comparison,” agrees Dr Tang. “There’s been less to compare – loungewear and hair roots rather than holidays or purchases – and we’re using it to help each other more and to speak to loved ones rather than to show off. Our world changed and therefore so did the need to prove ourselves.”
You might not be feeling anxious but are lacking in energy and motivation. We’ve had a lot of change and uncertainty and while most of us are keen to rekindle our social life, we may be feeling pretty weary and overwhelmed as the diary starts to fill up again. “I’ve now got a delayed hen do and wedding and a family birthday which I’m hosting, all happening in July. I feel exhausted and panicked just thinking about it,” says Anna, a mum of two young children who works full time from home and admits to feeling tired all the time.
If you feel worried about going out, Dave Smithson advises trying to reduce your general anxiety by making time for the things that help you relax and avoiding things that trigger anxious feelings, whether that’s news, social media, late nights or big gatherings, for now. “Try to focus on the positives, the things you’re most looking forward to,” he says. Making a list will help you visualise these things and get excited about them. “We humans are naturally adaptable and resourceful,” he says. “Go at it at your own pace and you should find you bounce back. And if you’ve enjoyed a slower pace of life, if your quality of life is better than it was before, don’t feel pressurised into doing things you don’t particularly want to do again,” he says. “Go at it at your own pace, nobody else’s.”