How to deal with the anxiety of leaving lockdown?

As the country slowly re-opens after three months of lockdown, we find ourselves in yet another transition; emerging from our cocoons and moving into a life that is still far from ‘normal’. 

February 2020 seems like another lifetime and our muscle for uncertainty is being endlessly tested as we move tentatively forward.    

There are plenty of great things about this new phase – I have a renewed appreciation for the things I once took for granted, like spending time with family and friends, being able to drive to the country to get out into nature, etc. 

Running alongside this appreciation is discomfort about the degree of uncertainty surrounding how life might look in the coming months… and it seems I am not alone. 

‘Re-Entry Anxiety’

Psychologists are referring to our current feeling of unease about emerging from lockdown as a form of ‘re-entry anxiety’ (a term usually used to describe the experience of young soldiers returning to society after war) [Irish Independent 12/07/20].   

Just as we were getting used to things being one way, they have changed again and this has left a lot of us feeling rattled.  It’s also worth noting that many people are finding the end of lockdown difficult – fear of getting sick, anxiety about the return to work/study or about the isolation of working from home, concerns about finance, etc.  If the feeling of worry or anxiety becomes persistent, it can be difficult to enjoy even the small pleasures of life.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety is a term that can describe feelings ranging from occasional flutters of fear to nausea, an inability to cope, and panic attacks.  None of these are comfortable but the far end of the scale can be debilitating and very challenging to deal with. 

One of the main physical symptoms experienced when we’re anxious is shortness of breath and/or tightening in the chest or belly. Paying attention to our breath is a great way to press ‘pause’ on anxious feelings.  Regulating the breath helps our nervous system to return to ‘Rest & Digest’, which is where we feel more relaxed.  One study has shown decreased levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and increased attention span after deep breathing.

Breathing Practices to Combat Anxiety

I use a variety of Yogic breathing practices to keep myself steady (Yoga teachers are not immune to stress!!) and I also teach these practices to my clients and students. One of the simplest of these is a combination of a kinesiology technique and breathing practice: if you’re feeling overwhelmed, place one hand on your forehead, the other on your belly (this bit is optional… depends on where you are!!) and bring your attention to your breathing.  Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, pause for a count of 4, exhale through your nose for a count of 4 and pause for a count of 4.  Repeat this at least 3 times, ideally for 4 minutes.  If a count of 4 feels like too much, just count to 3 instead. 

This practice can help to ease anxiety in the moment and will have great benefit if you can commit to practising it at least once daily. 

Don’t take my word for it, give it a try and see how you feel!

Photo acknowledgement: Designed by Freepik.

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