For many of us, the easing of lockdown restrictions brings longed-for opportunities – to see friends, play sports, resume contact with family in ‘real space’ or get back to work that we value.
But for many of us, even the happy, much anticipated changes and re-adjustment can be difficult for our mental health.
And for many others the prospect of coming out of lockdown when debate is still live about the science supporting it can be a real worry. This may especially apply to those more vulnerable to the virus and those of us with mental health concerns.
What are the mental health challenges, and what can we do?
We should be prepared for the fact that the end of lockdown might be as hard for us as the start was. Just as it took us time to find ways of coping during lockdown, we should also expect that it will take time to find our way back, and to reconnect with life. Things may not be the same as they were before.
Our mental health tips: about finding routines, staying connected, eating well, and taking exercise apply just as much now as they did at the start of lockdown – arguably even more so as we remain in a period of high stress but with more demands on us. Because our situations are unique to us, it is really important to try not to judge ourselves harshly based on what other people are doing. Everybody is facing uncertainty and challenge – and we have no choice but to move through it as best we can with our own coping mechanisms.
Fear and anxiety
Fear and anxiety are possibly the most common emotional responses any of us will feel as we approach the release from lockdown. Finding a way to pull ourselves through lockdown took a lot of our emotional energy and we may have found a place that lets us cope, and that we don’t want to leave behind just yet.
It’s important to acknowledge that these feelings are reasonable, and to expect them. It’s only by building up tolerance gently that we can move through these fears. If possible, take things at your own pace – but try and challenge yourself to try something different each day or every couple of days. It’s very easy to allow the seclusion that was necessary in lockdown to become deliberate isolation as lockdown ends. Celebrate small wins (and big wins) and try and keep a note of what you are achieving.
Tips on coping with fear and anxiety
Control what can be controlled – there are a lot of things you can’t control that cause you fear and anxiety – but there are some things you can manage or plan for. Having an action plan for managing things you might find difficult can help.
Pace yourself – recognising that you need to go at the right pace for you is important. Don’t let others bully or pressure you into doing things you don’t want to – but try not to let that be an excuse not to push yourself, especially when it comes to reconnecting with friends safely, outside your home, when rules allow and the time is also right for you. It can be hard to let others move forward without you – maybe your child wants to see friends or needs to return to work, but you can’t. It’s important to discuss concerns with those close to you, but also to allow other people space to move at their own pace.
Build up tolerance – try doing something that challenges you every day, or every few days. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t go well but keep at it. Keep a note of things you’ve achieved, enjoyed or surprised yourself doing.
Vary your routines – try and vary your routines so that you see different people and encounter different situations. If one supermarket makes you nervous, try another. If a walk at one time of the day is very busy, try mixing walks at busy times with walks at quieter times.
Talk to work – Many workplaces are allowing more flexible working even if people need to return. If you are finding it hard to get to work, or do particular shifts or activities because of anxiety or fear, speak to your manager or a colleague you trust if that feels right. If you have or have had longer term mental health problems, you may be entitled to reasonable adjustments as a disabled person under the Equality Act. Even if you haven’t disclosed before, if it feels safe to do so now you might be able to benefit from doing so.
Coping with uncertainty
Focus on the present – you can only do your best with what you have today. With regulations changing frequently, and lots of conflicting media discussions, try and keep a focus on the moment. Mindfulness meditation is one way of bringing your mind back to the present moment.
Bring things that are certain back into focus – whilst a lot of things are uncertain at the moment, there are also things to be hopeful about. Try to record and appreciate good things as they happen. Try and take opportunities to reset and relax.
Talk to people you trust – it’s important to talk about how you feel. Don’t dismiss your concerns or judge yourself too harshly. You may also be able to find your tribe online, but try and get outside perspectives too.
Picking up social lives
As we move out of lockdown it’s going to be possible to start picking up our social lives again – albeit with changes for the foreseeable future. Some of us are desperate to do so – but others will be nervous about doing so and going back into clubs and public, crowded spaces – or unable to do so because of their situations. If you are part of a social group doing an activity together, try and plan ways for people who aren’t ready for face to face meetings to still take part.
We may have become comfortable in our own space and with our own company in lockdown – it’s been intense in all sorts of ways and we might really have to push ourselves to reconnect with people and overcome initial awkwardness. Whether it’s feeling uncomfortable not wearing a mask anymore, or feeling odd to suddenly see people in large groups again, take things at your own pace. Even if government advice is to no longer socially distance, or to wear a mask, you can decide on what suits you best.
That also goes for our children’s friendships – many children have been desperate to see friends, but all families are making sense of the changes. Going back to school will bring new pressures and it’s important to make an extra effort to support your children getting back into the school routine and picking up friendships.
If we are shielding or in a vulnerable group, it’s likely that as others around us start to emerge from lockdown and start to do things that we miss, we may feel more isolated and less able to resist pressure to reduce lockdown measures. There’s a real risk that employers, schools businesses and friends and family will be less able to relate and support as the lockdown releases for others. Remember that rules and guidelines vary depending on who you are and where you live.
As we start to move out of lockdown restrictions again, it will be possible to see people again, and to provide support to those close to us.
how to get help for your mental health:
1800 595 212
1300 22 4636 (24 Hrs)
13 11 14 (24 Hrs)
Suicide Call Back Service
1300 659 467 (24 Hrs)
1800 55 1800 (24 Hrs)
Tandem Support and Referral Line
Information, support, advocacy or referral for family members or friends who are supporting a person with mental health issues.
Call 1800 314 325
Blue Knot Foundation Helpline
Information, support or referral for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse.
Call 1300 657 380, 9am-5pm / 7 days a week
Butterfly Foundation's National Helpline
Counselling and treatment referral for people with eating disorders, and body image and related issues.
Call 1800 33 4673 8am-9pm / 7 days a week
Mental health and wellbeing support, information and services to young people aged 12 to 25 years and their families.
Call 1800 650 890
Phone and online support and information service for Australian men.
Call 1300 78 99 78, 24 hours / 7 days a week
Phone and online service for people with stress, worry, anxiety, low mood or depression.
Call 1800 61 44 34 AEST, 8am-8pm (Mon-Fri), 8am-6pm (Sat)
Phone and web-based services to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
Call 1800 184 527, 3pm-12am (midnight) / 7 days a week
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia)
Telephone information, counselling and referral service.
Call 1300 726 306, 9am-7:30pm AEST (Mon-Fri)
Brother to Brother
24-hour crisis line for Aboriginal men has been set up to provide extra support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Call 1800 435 799
Support, training and education enabling those with a mental illness to lead a better life.
Call 1800 18 7263, 9am-5pm (Mon-Fri)
The Compassionate Friends Victoria
Information and peer support for families trying to rebuild their lives after the death of a child, sibling or grandchild, from trained volunteers with lived experience.
Call 9888 4944 or 1300 064 068 24/7. Siblings (aged 18-30 years) can use the web chat daily, 3pm-12am
Open Arms (Veterans and Families Counselling)
24/7 free and confidential counselling to anyone who has served at least one day in the ADF, and their families.
Call 1800 011 046
Mental Health Foundation Australia
National Mental Health Helpline offers emotional and practical support to families, carers and individuals with mental health issues. The response team does not provide counselling but can arrange a call back from a trained Psychologist or Counsellor.
Call 1300 643 287