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Why it’s normal to be anxious about the end of lockdown

The UK’s extreme lockdown has postponed weddings, cut off socialising and even delayed cancer treatments.

When the restrictions were imposed on 23 March, many began counting the days to some semblance of real life.

With officials gradually moving to relax the lockdown, however, anxiety is setting in as we prepare to adapt to a “new normal”.

‘There are still many unknowns’

Boris Johnson has repeatedly described the coronavirus outbreak as the biggest challenge the UK has faced in peacetime.

While the relaxation of extreme restrictions may sound welcome, many have adjusted to a slower pace of life.

“We’ve been in some form of lockdown well over the 66 days it typically takes for a new habit to form,” Dr Meg Arroll, chartered psychologist for Healthspan, told Yahoo UK.

“It takes a great deal of effort to form a new habit, as we essentially rewire neural pathways and behavioural patterns to support a new way of life.

“Therefore, to make yet more changes when the future is still uncertain is causing a great deal of anxiety in many people.”

While front-line workers have arguably never been so stretched, others have found themselves with more downtime.

“We have become accustomed to the shift from 100 miles per hour to a much slower pace of life”, Liz Ritchie, psychotherapist at St Andrew’s Healthcare, told Yahoo UK.

“We therefore no longer need to multitask and deal with the panic, stress and anxiety provoking activities, that for many was very much part of pre-lockdown life.”

With borders opening up and socialising no longer completely off the cards, many are concerned coronavirus cases may spike again.

This comes after some experts warned it is too early to ease restrictions.

“With COVID-19, the virus is novel so there are still many unknowns,” said Dr Arroll.

COVID-19 is the respiratory disease that can be triggered by the coronavirus.

The infection only emerged at the end of 2019, with experts unclear how long immunity lasts, the range of symptoms it causes or the proportion of patients who are asymptomatic.

‘Not surprising anxiety is high’

Officials have hailed a vaccine a way out of lockdown, with scientists around the world racing to develop a jab.

“At present we do not have an effective treatment or vaccine, so it’s not surprising that anxiety is high at the thought of going back to some form of normality”, said Dr Arroll.

Ritchie argued, however, some nerves may be a good thing.

“The kind of fear and anxiety we are experiencing post-lockdown can also be useful as it prevents us from taking risks and being irresponsible”, she said.

“However, acceptance of change and the need for flexibility as well as being mindful of unrealistic expectations of ourselves, must be a prerequisite if we are to re-enter this next phase in a safe and healthy way”.

If it all feels too much, Ritchie recommends taking every day at a time.

“Focussing too far ahead can be overwhelming and cause unnecessary anxiety, particularly for those who struggle with the need to control,” she said.

“Have a focus on healthy coping strategies like exercise that you enjoy, food that you enjoy.

“This will help to remove you from a place of catastrophizing and in turn exacerbating feelings of helplessness and anxiety”.

While experts work to come up with a permanent solution to the outbreak, Dr Arroll recommends people make their immune system as strong as possible by getting plenty of sleep, eating well, exercising and taking a vitamin D supplement.

It may also be possible to take some of the benefits of lockdown into our “new normal” life.

“Perhaps we can now appreciate life in a more simplistic way by enjoying spending quality time and reconnecting with our families”, said Ritchie.

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