Looking after your mental health as we come out of lockdown
Page last reviewed: 11 September 2020
For many of us, the gradual easing of lockdown brings longed-for opportunities (even if at a social distance) – to see friends, play sports, resume contact with family in ‘real space’ or get back to work that we value.
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.
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.
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.
Many of us fear becoming ill with the virus or passing infection on to loved ones, as the risk increases when people interact. This is an entirely normal response, but risk can be reduced by following the guidelines.
Every time we go back to something it is going to feel unusual or even scary. We might feel nervous or anxious.
That may be because we haven’t done it in a while, and we’ve forgotten how it feels – like going to work. It might be because things have changed because of the pandemic and the routines have changed – like one-way systems and queues to enter shops.
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.
We might feel angry or frustrated at other behaviours and feel the urge to rush to judgment or make comments on social media that reflect our anxiety. It’s important to share concerns with people we trust but also to bear in mind that you can’t control others’ behaviours, and that commenting online can lead quite quickly to unpleasantness.
If you can, express your frustration quickly and privately with someone you trust, and then let it go. If we hold on to things we can get pulled into rumination – where we chew over things in our heads.
For many of us, the pandemic has increased our anxiety, or made existing mental health issues worse. It may take longer to adjust to necessary changes – for example one-way systems in shops blocking off safe exit routes or wearing face masks triggering trauma flashbacks, or panic attacks because of the sensation of not being able to breathe.
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.
For many people lockdown has been relatively quiet and isolated. Coming back into shops, traffic, transport, and work might lead to sensory overload – feeling overwhelmed by sights, sounds or smells. Headphones may be a good way to reduce some of this by helping you to focus and creating a distraction with calls, music, podcasts or audiobooks.
Tips on coping with fear and anxiety
Coping with uncertainty
There has been a lot of talk of a ‘new normal’ – but normal is changing and uncertainty, and managing risk, is going to be the reality for the foreseeable future. This is not something that’s comfortable for many of us, particularly when we’re only just about coping with our mental health.
‘New normal’ for most of us will mean ‘what we need to get through today, or this week’ – it’s going to be very difficult to predict what the course of the rest of the year will look like, and with so much of the media talking about possibilities and stages without certainty, it’s easy to get caught up in ‘what-ifs’.
It can help to focus on the things we have learned and achieved in the last few months.
Most of us have been tested in ways we never imagined, have passed those tests and found new ways to manage – or even flourish. For many of us lockdown has challenged our values and what is important to us. The life, values, and attitudes we had in early March might not be the ones we want to return to in July, and there may be opportunities for us to make positive changes in our lives as well.
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.
Looking after children and family
During lockdown, those of us with caring responsibilities have supported our families. For parents and carers, returning to work is likely to provide a distance that might be much welcomed and needed – but also prove challenging emotionally when family closeness has been such a support to so many during lockdown. We have more detailed advice for parents here.
With schools either closed, or only open part time for some pupils up until the summer break at least, parents face a longer term need to cover childcare, assist with school work and make decisions about whether and when to send children back. Parents want to do their best by their children – but many are now under pressure from work to either return to the office, or to resume a level of productivity and engagement which doesn’t fit with their childcare responsibilities across the working week. For more information about returning to school here.
A similar situation arises for unpaid carers: perhaps the physical or mental health of the person they care for has deteriorated during lockdown and their own needs have changed. This will mean new assessments and changes in service provision.
Grief is something many of us will have experienced during the lockdown. Many people will have faced the loss of someone close during these past months, and with attendance at funerals restricted, and non-socially distanced company only very recently available to very specific groups, this has been doubly hard.
As we start to move out of lockdown it will be possible to see people again, and to provide support to those close to us who have been bereaved, although at the moment this must be socially distanced and cannot involve a hug – unless you are a single parent with children aged under 18, or a person living alone, who has formed a ‘bubble’ with one other household. You can find our information on dealing with loss and bereavement here.
The Mental Health Foundation is committed to bringing readers reliable and relevant information. All of our pages are written and regularly reviewed by our mental health experts, in line with official advice on the coronavirus outbreak.
We need your support to keep providing vital information during this time.