With the re-opening of shops and parts of the hospitality industry, we are entering a new phase of the Coronavirus pandemic, which will have further implications for our mental health.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you not to do things, not to go to the pub, or go shopping, because it would come from a very biased view, one that is very much based on my own fears and anxieties (which are sky high at the moment).
What I would like to say is to make sure that if you are going out, that you become even more aware of your anxiety levels, as well as the levels of those you are with.
“pace yourself, be kind to yourself and to others; you wouldn’t expect your body to be able to sprint a marathon, so don’t ask your mind to do it.”
Everyone’s mental health has taken a bit of a battering recently, and now is just another stage that we have to try and adapt to, and this can be really challenging for the brain.
If you have read my Anxiety and the Brain series, you will remember the part of the brain called the Amygdala, the bit that’s sole purpose is to keep us safe. We aren’t aware of what memories and information the Amygdala stores, and most importantly, what emotions it attaches to these, therefore we need to proceed with caution, especially if you have been isolated.
If it thinks you are in danger, the Amygdala will take action; this can happen in a split second and can result in a panic attack.
Some of us have been out, experienced life outside during lockdown so the shock to the brain will be reduced. For those of us who haven’t, suddenly going out and facing possible danger may be very challenging and overwhelming; we may experience emotions and physical reactions that we have not experienced before, and don’t even make sense. Welcome to the language of the Amygdala.
With this in mind, I would urge you to take it steady; now is not the time to go wild because there is a sense of freedom, and we can now do things that have been restricted.
Are the first few days of opening really the best time to go out?
Let’s face it, some people have hardly shown restraint or self control over the last few months, so it could be very stressful to suddenly find yourself in a chaotic situation. Also, it will give the pubs and restaurants time to get their new routines sorted; it’s going to be very different for everyone.
I would also ask you to be extra vigilant of those around you; friends, family, neighbours, others you see when you are out and about; it’s not always easy to spot the signs of a mental health problem so we need to be extra vigilant and caring. Don’t push people to do things if they say they are not comfortable, or if they are unsure.
Now is not the time to ‘man-up’ or to say ‘you’ll be fine’ (in fact there is never a time for this); if someone is not ready to go out then don’t force them, instead, tell them it doesn’t matter, there is no pressure.
Personally, I’m not going anywhere, unless I really have to; with my levels of anxiety at the moment, I struggle to go to the supermarket once every two weeks. I often think it would be nice to do something, but then when I think about it carefully, I realise that there are just too many risks involved, and any one of them could trigger my anxiety.
When I get back from the supermarket I literally wipe all the packaging with anti-bacterial soap; whenever we get a delivery it’s a process to wipe everything and get the boxes out in the bin ASAP.
What the hell would I be like if someone put a plate of food down in front of me?
Can I really trust that others don’t have Covid-19? Are they really doing the hygiene practices they say they are? You usually can’t swing a cat round in pub toilets at the best of times, so how is it going to work now? Is wearing a face mask going to cause me to panic because I’m not able to breathe normally?
I could go on with the long list, but I think you get the general idea. It may be excessive worry, but we need to remember that the danger is still very real.
It’s not just about catching the virus; everything we do has a knock-on effect; the whole track and trace freaks me out; the thought that I could see a friend one day, they could then see someone else, who could then show symptoms of the virus and then just by a chain of association Kim and I have to self isolate. I can’t tell you how much disruption and stress this would cause us.
There are people I love and care about, and it is really hard to think they may be doing something that could potentially put themselves in danger; and while I say to myself that people are free to do what they want, it doesn’t stop the worry.
I know that after this weekend the media will bombarded us with images and stories of people going crazy, drunken parties and such, and this will stir the emotional pot even more for a lot of people.
More and more (even writing this) I can feel my anxiety building.
As I said, I’m not going to preach that people should stay at home, because it is not for me to tell people what they can and can’t do, and I think it is important for businesses to be able to re-open; I will only suggest the following:
If you really don’t want to go out, then don’t; your mental and physical health are more important than any pint of beer or plate of food; if you’re not ready then accept it, be comfortable with the idea, and wait until you are ready.
Exposing yourself to something that causes you anxiety when you are not ready, or don’t have the proper support, can cause more longer lasting problems.
This is the time for some serious self-care.
If you do decide to go out, then try and have fun, enjoy it, pace yourself (and I don’t just mean how much alcohol you consume….), if you are not feeling comfortable then don’t be afraid to say so, and that you want to go home.
When you get home, make sure you take the time to relax; check-in with yourself, ask yourself; how do I feel? If you are feeling anxious then take some quiet time to relax; have some breathing techniques, or other mindful practises at hand in case you need them.
Don’t pretend you are fine if you are not.
Mental Health charities including Mind, SANE and The Samaritans have helplines, so if you are not feeling great, why not give them a call?
We still have a long way to go before we return to anything that resembles normal (whatever that was), so pace yourself, be kind to yourself and to others; you wouldn’t expect your body to be able to sprint a marathon, so don’t ask your mind to do it.
Stay safe, and keep well.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.