Many of us are slowly starting to emerge into social situations after months of various degrees of isolation imposed as a healthcare measure.
Retail stores, cafes and restaurants are beginning to re-open, gyms are permitted to hold exercise classes again, and personal care services are resuming – albeit with strict health and hygiene measures in place.
The signs are positive, so why are some of us feeling anxious about these changes? Part of it is that we’ve been through a massive upheaval where much of what we may have taken for granted in our communities has been out of our control.
Tremendous changes have taken place and there is still a lingering feeling of uncertainty and unpredictability. Our loss of certainty can trigger anxiety.
There are still great concerns that the Coronavirus has not gone away and there may be a ‘second wave’ of infections. A vaccine has not yet been found and getting out and about at restaurants, shopping centres and recreation areas may still expose us to the risk of being infected.
This is particularly true for people living with Parkinson’s and other diseases which compromise the immune system.
This is a genuine risk – not an imagined fear.
When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. You can’t control the presence or severity of coronavirus in your community, but you can take steps to reduce your own personal risk or the risk of unknowingly spreading it to others.
Some people will feel a sense of loss with the shift back to greater openness after having had a period of time where the social isolation created connection and closeness with life partners and family members.
Here are some ideas on how to cope with anxiety during these major changes now taking places in our personal lives and communities at large.
Be kind to yourself
Don’t feel you have to rush changes. It is not compulsory to be excited about restrictions lifting.
If you are feeling anxious, give yourself time to process your thoughts and feelings.
Take it slowly
Accept that our lives may never be the same again due to the many societal changes driven by the Coronavirus situation.
For the sake of your mental health, take things day by day and prioritise the changes you are prepared to make according to your own needs.
What is more important to you – returning to your Support Group or going shopping at the supermarket? Or perhaps the most beneficial thing for you would be to rejoin your choir, dance group or gym. It is your choice; nobody else’s.
Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do too much at once. Make your choices and proceed at your own pace.
Maintain your positive routines
If during lockdown you developed healthy and enjoyable routines with your care partner and family, keep them up.
Perhaps you developed an interest in cooking nutritious and creative dishes? Or you joined online exercise or stretching classes? These are transferrable and beneficial skills, even if you are no longer in social isolation.
The same applies to routines like exercise, stretching, medication, or even just enjoying a leisurely breakfast with your life partner. None of those need to immediately change, just because there have been external changes in the community around you.
Think about your real needs and anticipate changes
Re-entering the community or the workplace will be a significant change. How will you tackle it?
You may find thoughts drifting to the pandemic, whether it may return and how it may affect your life. This can simply fuel your anxiety.
During these times remind yourself that these are areas that affect everyone and are out of your control. What you can control is your thinking.
Think of those things that are certain in your life no matter how small they may be. Here are suggested alternative thinking tracks to use:
Think through the possible scenarios in which you may feel some anxiety – reconnecting with people you have not seen in person for months, using public transport, encountering crowds, etc.
How do you feel about those situations? Think in advance about strategies for managing them – then you have the comfort of a plan in mind before you actually encounter them.
Also consider where some changes and flexibility might be required.
For example, you might want to ask someone to drive you places for a while, before you are ready to tackle public transport. Or perhaps you would benefit from working from home for a while longer and returning to your workplace for a few days a week at first.
Be realistic about your own needs, your level of comfort with change, and what you can do to manage any associated anxiety.
Planning is a great way of counterbalancing anxiety about unknowns.