Let’s talk about the lockdown paradox. For months we’ve lamented limitations that curtailed our usual freedoms. Many of us will have felt frustrated about not being able to make our own life choices or follow through with plans. It’s become common practice to sit by the TV every Sunday, wishing for permission to return to normal life — from going to work to weekend cafe brekkies and watching the kids play sport. So why, now that many restrictions have been lifted, are some of us feeling ambivalent about resuming activities we so desperately missed? Why, when we’re allowed to go shopping or meet friends for lunch, would some of us prefer to stay home?
In effect, lockdown and its aftermath emphasise a conflict between two sides of the human condition. One, we’re incredibly adaptable and resilient (it’s quite remarkable that so many of us have managed to work from home and oversee home schooling). Two, we’re creatures of habit (some personalities favour routine more than others, but our brains like predictability). It makes sense, then, that many of us have adapted to the parameters of COVID restrictions. We may even quite like aspects such as making home-cooked meals, wearing comfy clothes and not having to make conversation. Conversely, aspects of our ‘old lives’ may seem foreign or even a bit scary. We may also now feel pressure to do everything we haven’t been able to at once (schedule six lunches, book a holiday, catch up with every single person in your phone book, visit loved ones, etc).
For others, there are uncertainties that make it hard to form a picture of what our ‘new normal’ is or might be. Our jobs may have gone or changed. Our financial situation may be different. In such cases, the end of lockdown may feel confronting. You may feel pressure to figure it all out. There may be fears about paying the rent or mortgage. It can be easy to get lost in what-ifs. If you’re experiencing trepidation about moving forward, our provisional psychologist Dani has put together these tips to ease the transition.
Take it easy. Just when we’ve got used to ‘lockdown life’, we may feel a pressure, obligation or urgency to embrace our new freedoms in one fell swoop — from dining out to visiting friends and relatives and booking holidays. Remind yourself that there is no external deadline. It’s not a competition or race. Be patient with yourself and resume activities at a pace with which you feel comfortable.
Focus on positive changes. The unprecedented challenges and changes imposed by COVID can make it tempting to dwell on what we’ve lost or sacrificed (e.g. missed time with loved ones or job opportunities). When you feel yourself ruminating, make a conscious effort to flip the coin. Compile a list of positive effects, such as increased contact with loved ones via video link or greater appreciation of relationships. Perhaps you’ve gained new skills or realised interests or passions such as art or cooking or gardening. Look for the good.
Take back control. Many of us will now face many new uncertainties and anxieties. We may face the challenge of finding a new job or even a new career. We may have to reassess our financial position and lifestyle. What previously seemed secure may now feel as though it’s up in the air. To combat the effects of such unknowns and restore a sense of agency and stability despite question marks, try to channel your focus and energy into what you can control. Maybe that’s rebuilding valued relationships, focusing on helping children with their academic work or undertaking a course to enhance your value in the workplace.
If you’re experiencing anxiety or struggling with your goals or direction for post-lockdown life, consider consulting a psychologist, who can help you to manage thoughts and beliefs that amplify anxiety or clarify your values, goals and strengths.