anxious man holding his knees

It’s okay if you don’t feel super excited for a return to ‘normal’ (Picture: Getty/

The big day is here.

Restrictions have lifted, face masks are no longer mandatory, and we can go out and go wild.

There’s a lot of excitement and expectation around this: it’s even been termed Freedom Day.

But what if rather than being raring to get going and rejoicing at being ‘free’, your overwhelming emotion is dread?

It can be tricky to admit, amid all the celebrations, that you’re not feeling so positive about coming out of lockdown.

You might be feeling scared, or worried, or anxious for reasons you don’t fully understand.

Perhaps you’re fearful of going out in the world where people might not be taking precautions. Maybe spending such a long time indoors has made crowded places terrifying. Or you might just not be ready to go back to ‘normal’, whatever that means.

There are many – completely valid – reasons why you could be experiencing Freedom Day anxiety. But how can you deal with it?

Recognise your feelings are valid

Trust us, you’re not the only person feeling less-than-comfortable about Covid-19 restrictions lifting. You’re definitely not alone.

‘I think it’s a really normal response to a very abnormal situation,’ Counselling Directory member Shelley Treacher tells us in our mental health podcast, Mentally Yours. ‘Coming out of a long isolation caused by a terrifying deadly threat, our nervous systems are still going to be triggered.

‘We’ve got used to being on guard. It might take us a while for our body’s threat response to calm down and get back to normal, because we’ve been so vigilant for so long.’

Take a moment to work out what you’re worried about

You might have a completely different set of reasons for being anxious about today to someone else. Take a moment to write down your concerns and work out exactly what’s causing you distress.

‘Some of us have developed social anxiety after being isolated from others for so long,’ says Shelley. ‘Some of us might have a fear of being seen.

‘We need to examine exactly what we’re terrified of now.’

Fact check your anxieties

Once you’ve written down your points of concern, it’s time to fact-check ’em.

Go through each one and assess whether it’s a realistic fear, if the worst outcome you’re imagining is likely to happen, and what actions you can take to lessen each worry.

So, for example, if your worry is that no one will be wearing face masks, you can remind yourself that many people you know will continue to wear coverings, and that you can keep wearing them, too.

‘We need to check the news, check how things have changed, and check what the actual risks are now, because they’ve changed,’ Shelley highlights. ‘Things are different now, but it’s going to take our physiological systems time to catch up with that.’

Don’t feel like you have to say yes to everything

‘A lot of people have always said yes, when they mean to say no,’ Shelley notes. ‘One of the reliefs of the pandemic was people were able to not feel like they had to please everybody else and do everything they were invited to.’

Remember it’s okay to say no. If you’re not ready to go to the pub or hit up a festival, you don’t have to. Set boundaries and don’t feel like you have to move at the same pace as other people.

Young female Black character sitting with a dog in a living room, cozy lockdown lifestyle, stay at home concept

It’s normal to be tentative about going out and about (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Remember what you’re in control of

One anxiety for many is that people won’t be taking Covid-19 as seriously when restrictions lift, and that we’ll thus be at an increased risk.

It’s helpful to remind yourself that you can continue to take whatever precautions will make you comfortable.

Keep wearing your mask, if that makes you feel safer. Ask your friends if you can meet up outside in the park, if you’re not quite ready to be back in a busy pub. Make sure you get vaccinated.

You can’t control what everyone else does, but you have the power to look after your own wellbeing.

Make sure to rest

Brace yourself: As the world opens back up again and life gets more packed, you’re likely to get tired – physically and mentally.

Schedule in some proper downtime and ensure you’re getting plenty of sleep.

‘We’re all on the edge of burnout,’ says Shelley. ‘This has been really tough on all of us.

‘We need to be really careful with ourselves.’

Be kinder to yourself

This can’t be overstated. Don’t beat yourself up for not bouncing off the walls, or for being tired, or for being scared.

If you have an internal monologue that’s just plain mean, it’s time to challenge it.

Now is when we need to really tune into what we’re feeling, what we need, and being gentle with ourselves.

Learn relaxation techniques

As you start to go back out into the world, you might encounter a sudden rush of anxiety, whether that’s prompted by crowds or having to socialise again.

Arm yourself with breathing exercises and similar relaxation techniques to help calm yourself down in the moment.

Shelley recommends this exercise for when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Turn your head slowly to one side, as far as you can without it being uncomfortable.
  2. Make your eyes turn in that direction even further, so you’re looking behind you.
  3. Take some slow, deep breaths as you do this.
  4. You might notice a yawn, a deep sigh, or a change in breath – this is what we’re after, to get your nervous system to start moderating itself.
  5. Once that has happened, do the same on the other side, until your breathing has slowed.

There’s also the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique. For this one, when you or someone else is in panic mode, you list off five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can physically feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

This works to ground you, putting you back into reality and helping your body to kick in with self-regulation.

Prioritise your wellbeing

You might have picked up some healthy habits in lockdown – don’t give them up just because things are changing again.

‘This could be a real turning point for us where we prioritise our mental health and how we feel,’ says Shelley.

‘It takes practice. Try putting an alarm on your phone to make sure you have time set aside for yourself.’

Take this time to think about the things in your pre-pandemic life that weren’t working for you, and remember that just because Freedom Day is here, that doesn’t mean you have to return to an unhealthy version of ‘normal’.

This can be an opportunity for change. If there are things you’re dreading – whether that’s packing every evening with socialising or going back to the office full-time – maybe it’s time to stop making them part of your life.

To chat about mental health in an open, non-judgmental space, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.

Follow us on Twitter at @MentallyYrs.

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