Desperate to see family and friends, but terrified by things opening up too soon? Here’s what’s driving that.
Midsummer… June 21… a date that now holds so much weight for so many.
It’s touted as the day the majority of coronavirus restrictions will supposedly be lifted in England, when legal limits on social contact will be scrapped, and when many establishments that have been closed for months will reopen.
While some have expressed their delight at the sheer thought of going ‘clubbing’ after a long hiatus, and others are relieved that big life events and parties can go ahead from this moment onwards, just as many have been left disappointed by the government’s latest roadmap to ‘unlockdown’.
There’s sadness that people wouldn’t be seeing family and friends for weeks yet (or longer for those waiting for indoor restrictions to change); disappointment that big events pre-June 21 will have to be cancelled or go ahead on a far smaller scale; and anger that livelihoods continue to be kept on hold.
As the world opens up, we may face a “tsunami of complicated and delayed grief and trauma”, says Counselling Directory member and therapist Dee Johnson. There are those left anxious at the thought of restrictions easing completely come mid-June. And some may have pangs of guilt – that they are here to see the restrictions lift, while loved ones taken by Covid are not.
There’s even a significant chunk of people who feel like they want lockdown to end tomorrow (if it means seeing the people they love), but who, at the same time, don’t feel ready for June because, well, is it going to be safe?! Many are worried we could end up back in lockdown again if it’s rushed.
It’s a proper head mess. We are a nation truly overwhelmed.
“It’s caused a real rollercoaster of emotions,” says Johnson. “There is still so much fear of the virus and how it behaves and mutates and is a threat that we cannot see – and until the vaccine rollout has reached more groups there is still a very high feeling of vulnerability and feeling insecure for people.
“The roadmap reveal was a pivotal moment for us all, as this is a sign of progress – yet we are still not out of the woods, so having hope and fear at the same time is overwhelming and confusing.”
Both responses are valid, says Johnson, who points out that we’ve experienced so many highs and lows over the past few months that we are emotionally exhausted – from coming to terms with our stagnant lives, to dealing with the yo-yoing of tier restrictions over Christmas, to excitement when the vaccine was released and further buoyed spirits over this “roadmap to recovery”.
Psychodynamic counsellor Erica Spencer Green compares coming out of lockdown to what children go through growing up into independent adults. “A year is a long time in which we’ve all developed coping strategies,” she says.
We’ve rewired our brains to be satisfied with remote contact with family and friends, for example, and found alternative methods of working, communicating and living. It’s been a huge time of adaptation. We’ve grown accustomed to the limitations imposed by lockdown, she explains, and although very frustrating, the restrictions have also felt protective.
During this time, control has been taken out of our hands with a government leading the reins on what we could and couldn’t do. But now we’re gradually being handed those reins back – and this is a lot to deal with mentally.
“I liken it to the gradual move towards independence that children experience,” says Spencer Green. “With autonomy comes responsibility and this can be nerve-wracking. What will ‘safe’ feel like again? I want the security of my friendship circle, but will I feel comfortable meeting up? What can I trust any more, such as traveling on public transport and dining out?
“The lockdown and subsequent release will be triggering lots of different emotions for individuals connected to security, defences and control.”
Ultimately, therapists recommend acknowledging that we have all changed during this past year and to not expect to ‘be your old self’ come June.
How to resume life when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of it
The key thing is to give yourself, and others, time to adjust. “I think it’s really important to acknowledge that these are guidelines, a framework to work within,” says Spencer Green of the government’s roadmap to recovery.
“You don’t have to go at this pace if it doesn’t suit you, you can slow things down.” Choose what feels safe and best for you.
Likewise, try not to be too judgmental of yourself or others as we emerge from lockdown. “Our physical, emotional, and national defences have been severely tested over the last year with the coronavirus, so we need to give ourselves time to recover and rebuild confidence in all of these areas,” she says – and that rarely comes overnight.
Spencer Green advises following the guidelines but also being aware of what your own emotions are telling you should you feel like you want to delay returning to ‘normality’, and adds that it might be useful to consider all of the changes that you’ll want to maintain as we come out of lockdown.
She offers her own example: she’ll be keeping the option of working online open as it gives her the opportunity to work with a broader range of individuals.
It will take us all some time to get used to how life will be out of lockdown so, have faith in yourself, stay mindful and cut yourself some slack, suggests therapist Beverley Blackman. “Humans are adaptable and resourceful, and we will find a way back into life beyond lockdown,” she says. “Focusing on ‘I can’ rather than ‘I can’t’ will be helpful.”
This mean acknowledging the activities and connections you are able to enjoy. “When you remember that there are things that you can take pleasure in, rather than focusing on the things that you cannot have or cannot do, we can learn to allow that sense of pleasure in,” says Blackman.
“These can be simple things: appreciating the signs that spring is on the way or a chat on the phone with a friend; enjoying our favourite coffee without the humdrum of the office around us; appreciating some nice food or the time that we can give to ourselves.
“Life may not be perfect, but we are doing okay – and as lockdown is eased, we have the ability to create a life that is more to our liking.”
Covid-19 is more than a news story – it has changed every aspect of life in the UK. We are following how Britain is experiencing this crisis, the different stages of collective emotion, reaction and resilience. You can tell us how you are feeling and find further advice and resources here.