Covid restrictions are due to lift in England on July 19th, removing the need for mask wearing and social distancing.
For many, this is being met with relief and joy as they can once again meet in large gatherings and enjoy festivals, theatre and night clubs, and meet up in larger social groups providing the feeling that life is getting back to normal.
For others, Freedom Day is a fearful situation and a source of anxiety. The measures put in place to protect people from Covid have previously formed a comfort zone, keeping anxiety in check and this comfort zone is about to be taken away. At this time, Covid cases are still rising and the health secretary, Sajid Javid has stated that cases could surge to as many as 100,000 cases per day. Figures like this strike fear into many, particularly the vulnerable and those not yet fully vaccinated.
The condition ‘Covid-19 Anxiety Syndrome’ has been identified and it is believed that one in five people may be suffering from this, reporting a fear of losing control as the restrictions are lifted. During the pandemic, many people have developed forms of coping which are not helpful, such as paying constant attention to threat, worrying, excessively checking (of news and social media for example), avoidance of people and social situations leading to them becoming isolated. It may be difficult to disengage from these activities even as the restrictions ease.
An opinion poll in the Observer noted that 65% of people will continue to wear masks in shops and supermarkets and 54% will continue to do so on public transport. In fact, the mayors of London and Greater Manchester are moving to make the wearing of masks mandatory on public transport in those areas.
It is useful to remember that anxiety plays an important function in protecting us from danger and ensuring our survival. It has been important to be vigilant during the pandemic to protect ourselves and others from the virus. However, excessive levels of anxiety are not good for us physically or mentally. Anxiety can provoke physical symptoms such as headache, stomach problems like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), respiratory problems such as shortness of breath and it can provoke panic attacks.
Anxiety worsens as people lose control of their choices and other people, such as employers, take back the control.
How to handle Covid-19 stress and anxiety?
However, it is still possible to take control personally of things in your life. For related tip on Getting back to normal, and how to cope with change read this recent blog. It is important to be kind to yourself and not feel like there is something unnatural in wanting to hold on to some of the restrictions. Although we cannot control what other people do, we can be clear on our own boundaries. We can choose who we socialise with and where we go out in public. Many people will still wear face masks and not everyone will be back out there, whooping it up! Stick to the places and people who continue to show caution and respect, socialise where you feel comfortable. Take things gradually, one small step at a time as you begin to feel more at ease in situations.
Avoidance is fine to a point, but it is important for good mental health to have positive activity and positive interaction in your life. If you feel you are becoming isolated and your life is over-restricted, maybe it is time to speak with family and friends, or even your GP, to come up with a plan to reintegrate slowly and safely – to extend that comfort zone. If you feel you are not in control and are becoming overwhelmed, please give me a call and we can have a chat about finding ways to control your anxiety.
However you feel about July 19th, please be cautious, be respectful and be kind.