The end of COVID-19 restrictions: tips on looking after your mental health

Page last reviewed: 24 February 2022

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

All remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England will end from Thursday 24 February. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also planning to ease restrictions soon.  

This may bring up strong feelings for you: fear, worry, confusion, relief, or a mixture of different emotions. You might be glad to see some restrictions going but worry it’s too soon to end others. This may especially apply if you or your loved ones are more vulnerable to the virus or have mental health concerns.

What are the mental health challenges, and what can we do?

The end of all COVID-19 restrictions might be as hard for us as their introduction was. 

Society has opened back up but you might not have felt ready yet to get back to the things you enjoyed, such as going to the cinema or pub, mixing with big groups, or travelling by public transport. The end of restrictions might feel like extra pressure to join in, with the added worry that people no longer legally have to self-isolate if they have coronavirus.

Just as it took us time to find ways to cope during lockdown, it will take time to find our way back and reconnect with life. Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s taking longer than you expected or if other people seem more confident or sociable than you.

Our mental health tips – about finding routines, staying connected, eating well and keeping active – apply just as much now as they did at the start of lockdown. They may feel even more relevant as we adapt to more big changes.

 

Fear and anxiety

Fear and anxiety are common emotional responses to the end of COVID-19 restrictions. You may not feel safe or ready to leave behind the ways you coped with various levels of COVID-19 rules, from multiple lockdowns to regulations gradually easing.

It’s important to make space for your feelings rather than push them away. It’s only by building up tolerance gently that we can move through these fears.

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. Recognise that you need to go at the right pace for you. 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. Talk about your concerns with those close to you, but also allow other people to move at their own pace.  

Build up tolerance. Try doing something that gently 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. Mix things up so you see different people and encounter different situations. If one supermarket is crowded and 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. If you’re 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 a long-term mental health problem, you may be entitled to reasonable adjustments as a disabled person under the Equality Act. Even if you haven’t disclosed a mental health problem before, you might benefit from doing so now if it feels safe.

We have more advice on readjusting to work here.

Coping with uncertainty

Focus on the present. You can only do your best with what you have today. With regulations changing and lots of conflicting media discussions about what’s right, try and keep focused on the moment. Mindfulness meditation is one way of bringing your mind back to the present moment. 

Focus on what’s certain. While a lot of things are uncertain at the moment, there are also things to be hopeful about. Try to notice and appreciate good things as they happen, 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 be able to find your tribe online, but try and get outside perspectives too

Picking up social lives

As restrictions end, you may start picking up more of your social life again – perhaps because you feel safer doing so, or maybe you feel pressured by others who are excited to get back to normal.  

Reconnecting with people may initially feel awkward. Whether it’s feeling uncomfortable not wearing a mask anymore, or feeling odd about seeing people in large groups again, take things at your own pace. Even if government advice is to no longer socially distance or wear a mask, you can decide on what precautions suit your circumstances or vulnerabilities best.

If you’re shielding or in a vulnerable group, you may feel more isolated as others start to do the things you miss. There’s a real risk that friends and family will be less able to relate and offer support. Try to find people who do understand what you’re going through, or – if you feel able to – talk to someone you trust about feeling left out. Ask them to find ways to include you that don’t involve face-to-face contact.

Looking after children and family

If you’re a parent or carer who is returning to the workplace after working from home, you may welcome the distance this provides between work and home – but it may also prove challenging emotionally. We have more detailed advice for parents here.

With many global events communicated on the media at the moment, it’s normal that children may feel scared or uncertain. In our digital era, it is no longer possible to control the news that we are exposed to, or to shield children from upsetting information. What you can do is help to minimise the negative impact it has on your children. You can do this through open and honest conversations at home. Here are our top tips.