After two months of working from home, catching up with friends and family via Zoom, not being able to work off our stress at the gym and wondering when it’s all going to be over, the end of lockdown finally seems to be here. So why aren’t all of us jumping up and down in glee?
Though the social invitations might be coming in thick and fast, the shopping centres calling our names and bosses starting to hint at getting back to the office, for some of us, just the idea of leaving the house seems like a lot right now. Have we suddenly developed agoraphobia? Why have we still not left the house in five days? Will we ever feel like putting pants on again?
According to Dr Addie Wootten, CEO of not-for-profit organisation Smiling Mind and a Clinical Psychologist by background, while the opportunity to see our friends and socialise again seems like something we’ve been eagerly awaiting, it’s completely normal to feel anxious about leaving your four walls.
As she says, “We’ve spent the past two months living in our own private bubbles and adhering to advice to stay inside, so there’s bound to be some feelings of hesitation about leaving lockdown.”
While two months might not seem like a long enough period of time to become entrenched, we’ve had to establish entirely new routines and may even feel like we’ve fully adjusted to life in isolation—so there’s no wonder a number of us are experiencing some hesitations in breaking them. Remember how weird you felt when this all started? Well now we’re going in reverse, and the effects on our wellbeing are just the same.
“A change in routine can result in feelings of anxiety at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic,” Dr Wootten adds.
Plus, while restrictions have eased around the country, we still have a long way to go in terms of getting back to ‘normal’. Many of the usual activities we’d engage in outside of home are still off limits, so there’s no surprise we’re still spending more time at home than we typically would before lockdown.
But if you’ve become one with your couch groove and are starting to think that perhaps your anxiety about leaving it is more than just an unwillingness to put real pants on, there are some things you can do. Firstly, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are all going through a once-in-a-lifetime event. If feelings of anxiety arise, try to remember this and not be too hard on yourself.
Secondly, it is important to prioritise seeing family and friends—especially after being apart for so long. But Dr Wootten says, “Ease back into it, and be mindful that you don’t have to fill up your schedule just because you can. Start by socialising once or twice a week and build this up if and when you’re ready to. If you find yourself declining invitations, that’s ok! Be honest with where you’re at and check in with yourself.”
So what about the sweaty palms that the thought of going back to the office brings on? Well, Dr Wootten says that after working from home for quite some time it’s normal to experience feelings of anxiety around going back to the office, the daily commute and being in an office environment again. There are also a number of question marks around what work looks like for the next few months, so whenever there is uncertainty on the horizon there are bound to be feelings of anxiety that come up.
“If you haven’t had the chance to talk to your boss yet about what the transition back to the workplace looks like for you and your team, schedule in a virtual coffee catch up to discuss the coming months. This also provides a great opportunity to chat through what you enjoyed about working from home that might be beneficial to maintain as you head back to the office.”
“Opening up the communication between yourself and management, as well as having a little bit more clarity around what the next steps might look like, may help you relieve some of those tensions and anxiety around heading back to work,” she suggests.
Finally, a great way to deal with our anxiety as we leave our isolation bubbles is to build a meditation practice into your routine. This can be at the start of the day or just before you’re about to head out to the shops, work or to socialise. In a time when there is so much uncertainty, creating structure and tools to proactively manage your mental health has never been so important. Dr Wootten can help here too—the Smiling Mind app has free guided meditations that can help you manage these emotions and cultivate mindfulness into your day as you navigate these changes.
While you’re at home, brighten your spirits with these self-care essentials.
Image credit: Clarisse Meyer
Dr Addie Wootten is the CEO of not-for-profit organisation Smiling Mind and a Clinical Psychologist by background. Addie brings her extensive background in clinical psychology, research and e-health to her position of CEO of Smiling Mind and is a well-known leader in her field. She is an advocate for youth mental health, passionate about changing the way everyone views mental health—as an asset, rather than a problem—and believes we all need to be actively looking after our mental health, just like our physical health.