This Is Why You’re Anxious About The Return To “Normal”

24.05.20

There isn’t a single friend or family member that I’ve spoken to in the past fortnight who hasn’t expressed some version of fear or anxiety about returning to their “normal life” post-lockdown.

For Kiwis, the return is officially underway: shops and bars are reopening, children are back at school, cars are congesting the motorways again, and the number of people wearing face masks on the street are few and far between. These are all good things. It means that we’ve broken the chain of community transmission in New Zealand, it means that our people are safe, it means that our economy can begin its recovery. And yet so many of us are feeling…. anxious.

The impact of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown on our mental wellbeing cannot be overstated; Susan Borja, lead researcher on the traumatic stress program at the United States National Institute of Mental Health, has publicly voiced her concern that the Coronavirus is creating a mental health crisis the country is simply unequipped for. That crisis will be rooted in psychological trauma caused by an ever-growing death toll, sustained periods of isolation, and a general fear of contracting the virus.

But this new season we’re entering – post-lockdown – has also spiked anxiety among many individuals and Dr Steven Taylor, a professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, said this is likely due to the sheer amount of change we’ve all had to go through in such a short amount of time: “The spreading and containment of contagion in the case of a pandemic is very much a psychological phenomenon.” As for what is making us feel apprehensive about the move to Level 2, well there’s no singular factor. For you, it might simply be moving back to your flat after two months at home with your parents, for your neighbour who works as a nurse on the frontlines it might be the fear that our country will see a spike in new cases and undo all our hard work. For many it will be the genuine concern of contracting the virus; compounded by all these new routines we’ve had to adopt and maintain like signing in at cafes, social distancing in the supermarket, and cleaning gym equipment within an inch of its life. For some it might be the feeling of losing control: We’ve been in lockdown for over two months now, and as claustrophobic and restrictive as it has felt, it’s also been a “safe container” for many – a period of stillness and downtime. If you’re a parent, there could be many triggers; sending your children back to school, worried that your efforts at home-schooling will be revealed as inadequate, or wondering how the hell your child is meant to practice social distancing when most of the time they have no concept of spatial awareness. There’s also the reality that with many spouses returning to work, the parent who is staying at home no longer has an additional pair of hands to help out. I’ve spoken to many readers who were made redundant over the lockdown and feel anxious at the thought of everyone returning to work and the reality settling in about their new unemployment status. We often forget that while the financial impact of unemployment is a top concern for many, having a job also provides a sense of identity, purpose, and connection to a larger community. 

What I’m trying to say is: Your feelings are valid. In fact, if you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, you can consider yourself part of the majority. So reach out, stay connected, and for God’s sake be kind to yourself. 

If you need to talk, please call or text 1737 at any time for support from a trained counsellor at the Mental Health Foundation.

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