Anxiety About ‘Returning to Normal’

This blog was posted last year as part of a series of six lockdown blogs. We thought this blog might be helpful again, as we start to move towards restrictions easing. Some of my previous blog posts have been about all the difficult feelings that lockdown might have brought up for people. Today, I’ll address anxiety, but for those who have enjoyed lockdown. For some people, the lockdown has been a fresh breath of air, the break they needed, a pause from overwhelm, a quiet interlude, a needed respite. For some people, that has brought guilt for enjoying something that’s causing so many others pain, and it’s brought anxiety about the thought of returning to whatever normal awaits on the other side. Some people are saying that the world cannot return to the previous normal after this – but who knows? What I do know is that whatever we return to, you’ll have a say in how you go forward, in how you interact with others, how you decide to spend your leisure time and make use of international travel, how you vote, how you think, what demands you put on your boss, how you choose to go forward as a fellow human, as a friend, partner, parents or otherwise. But, there’s still not a magic solution if you’re feeling anxious about a post-lockdown world. When it comes to anxiety – thinking about the future and going over all the ‘what ifs’ scenarios – the solution is simple but it’s not easy! And that’s to stop thinking about all the things that are outwith your control and start looking at what is within your control. It’s about thinking about ‘what is’ instead of ‘what if’. A technique used in counselling is to take a piece of paper and draw a circle in the middle. Outside the circle your write down all the things that are worrying you and that you cannot control, like Covid-19, and government’s guidelines, and your parent’s health (for example), and inside the circle you write down everything you can control, such as checking in on your parents, deciding how to vote in a way that works for you at the next election, to wash your hands every time you’ve been out, to practise mindfulness and staying in the moment and so on… Obviously, you can do this with anything that bothers you and it doesn’t have to be Covid-related. Another exercise I’m using at the moment and which is based on the same principles, but more specific to Covid-19 and lockdown, is to take a piece of paper and make three columns:
  1. In column one, you write down everything you’ve loved about the lockdown. Maybe that’s the slowing down of pace, maybe that’s the fact the planet is getting a bit of healing time itself, maybe it’s that you’ve enjoyed working from home.
  2. In column two, you write about all the things you’ve missed because of lockdown, like maybe going to your local chippy, or driving up the coast, or hugging your friends.
  3. In the third column you write down what changes you’ll be taking forward after lockdown, maybe travel less, maybe talking to your boss about working from home more often, maybe reducing the number of activities your children participate in and encourage more home quality time.
The point of this exercise is to establish gratitude for what it is, above what it isn’t. And it gives you a moment to reflect – what can you control going forward? If you’re anxious about ‘returning to normal’ what can you take control of and try to change to make it a new and better normal for you? Teri Kansted – Coaching Psychologist and Dyslexia Scotland blogger