“ ‘Showing up’ means facing into your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours willingly, with curiosity and kindness.” Dr Susan David
As lockdown measures are being reduced, it might be a good time to ‘show up’ for yourself. This means taking time to check in with how you are thinking and feeling about re-entry into the world. Maybe you’re chomping at the bit to get back to it, or maybe you feel like a child who’s anxious about going back to school after a long summer break.
However re-entry feels to you, it is important to honour those feelings and thoughts. Even if they seem irrational, they are giving you information about what is being triggered in you and therefore what you might need. When you are honest with yourself about how you’re feeling you can then respond in a way that is helpful. Be gentle in this process, try to notice what you’re feeling without judgment.
Dr David also talks about ‘stepping out’, which effectively means stepping outside of those feelings and observing them, rather than becoming them. We have thousands of thoughts and feelings each day and we don’t have to accept them all as the truth. We can create distance from difficult feelings by changing the language we use around them, so instead of saying: ‘I’m frightened of being out in public’ you can say: ‘I notice I’m feeling frightened of being out in public’. This places you as the observer of the fear rather than becoming the fear itself. You can then use a curious mindset to help with that, for example instead of saying: ‘I’m scared of how life is going to be after lockdown’ you can think about it more inquisitively, such as: ‘I wonder what it will be like…’.
We have never exited a global pandemic in modern times before, so we are all entering a period of the unknown. It is understandable to have lots of different thoughts and feelings, many of them may seem opposing which can feel confusing. In this case, it’s good to remember the power of ‘and’. For example, instead of saying ‘I notice I’m looking forward to seeing my family but I’m fearful of being in public’ you might say ‘I notice I’m looking forward to seeing my family and I’m feeling fearful of being in public’. Both things can be true without one thing undermining the other.
Once you have faced into your thoughts and feelings, you can then think about what you might need to help support you. Here are some things you might like to consider when preparing for exiting lockdown.
If you are fearing the unknown it can be helpful to seek out information to feel more prepared. For example, if you are making your first hair appointment, ask them what safety measures they are taking and how the salon and stylist will look. If you are returning to the office for the first time, ask your manager how things will be different, where you will be sitting etc. If you are really anxious, maybe even ask for photos of how it will look. This gives you time to mentally prepare for the situation. Likewise, if you are running a business, it might be helpful to your customers to add photos on your website or social media so that customers can be prepared for what to expect.
Take it slowly
If you have mostly been at home during lockdown, you might want to practice a bit of exposure therapy and take small steps towards being out in the world. It might feel really overwhelming to go from being home all the time to functioning out in the world. Instead you can start with smaller things such as going to the local shop first before you go to a large supermarket, or going to the train station foyer to see what it’s like before you need to take public transport for the first time. Even just driving to the office car park ahead of having to go back into the office can help you reduce the ‘firsts’ on the day you need to go back to work.
Be respectful of your own needs and don’t be afraid to ask to have them met. Maybe this could be asking to alter your working patterns to avoid rush hour on the train or to give you time to adjust to being back in the office. Maybe it’s about being clear with friends and colleagues when you don’t have the emotional capacity to talk about current events. As non-essential shops or bars/restaurants start to open, if you feel other customers are not respecting the safety measures, perhaps a quiet word to the staff will enable them to deal with this accordingly.
Be respectful of others
Everyone will have had different lockdown experiences so try to be respectful of how others are responding to re-entry and take your cue from them. For example, many of us are accustomed to queuing outside shops and have a good sense of physical distancing. However, there will soon be people joining queues who have been shielding and are experiencing this for the first time. Notice if someone looks nervous or is leaving a greater distance in the queue and give them extra space to help them feel safer.
Maybe you want to offload about COVID-19 to your friends or colleagues but it’s always good to check in with whether they feel able to hear it. By asking ‘Do you have capacity to talk about the virus right now?’ you are giving them the option to decide. Also try to give them space to talk about how they’re feeling too.
Being an introvert or extrovert may have had a bearing on how people experienced the lockdown and also how they respond to re-entry. Perhaps you are an extrovert who is bouncing back in to work, dying to see your colleagues; whereas your colleague is an introvert who needs time to get used to being around so many people again. It’s important to be respectful of each other’s needs and allow both time to chat and space to retreat.
Trust your resilience
Humans would not have had the evolutionary success we have if it weren’t for our ability to adapt. Trust in your resilience and ability to adapt to new situations. Think about how you felt when the pandemic first hit, versus how you feel now. Maybe you felt terrified the first time you had to queue at the supermarket, and yet many of us adapted very quickly to that being our new reality. Coming out of lockdown will be the same, it might feel alien at first but trust that you will soon adapt and become more comfortable.
Now is also a great time to reflect on how lockdown has been for you. There may be many elements of lockdown easing which are outside of your control, and all you can do is prepare for these. However, there may also be things which trigger anxiety or fear in you which are in your control, so it might be time to plan for how you can respond to your needs. Is there anything you have realised is important to you and you want to make more time for it? Perhaps the opposite is true, maybe there are activities you have felt relieved not to attend and now might be the time to gracefully bow out.
Perhaps you have enjoyed shopping from local companies and so now is the time to re-think your consumer behaviours. For example, researching if there are independent coffee shops close to your place of work. Perhaps you have noticed who in your life has been a great support to you during this time and you want to make sure you continue to nurture that connection. Perhaps you have appreciated having more time for self-care such as being more mindful, cooking nourishing meals or taking walks in nature. Now is the time to set your intentions for how you can take these aspects into a busier life.
None of us really know what the immediate future holds and whether lockdown measures will continue to ease or need to be tightened up again. However, if we approach the situation mindfully and show up for ourselves and how we are feeling, we will be in a better place to respond.
As always, be kind to yourself and others