Mental wellbeing in the ‘new normal’

Feeling overwhelmed with the ever-changing COVID lockdown guidelines? Here are some tips to help you manage your mental health during the new normal

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

With lockdown easing it may feel like we are taking significant steps back to normal life. However, as official advice continually changes, many of us may feel like we are riding an ‘emotional rollercoaster’ – a coronacoaster if you will.

You might be feeling reluctant, or anxious, to take the first trip on public transport, or going to a socially distanced meet-up with friends and, for those who have been shielding for the past four months, even the smallest step may seem like a big challenge to overcome.

In a survey undertaken by Nuffield Health a third of people said that their mental health has deteriorated since the start of lockdown, whilst 80% said that working from home has negatively impacted their mental health. Therefore, it’s not surprising that, just as lockdown has impacted our emotional wellbeing, the lifting of it will require mental readjustment for all of us.

With this in mind, here are some useful tips to help you to look after your mental wellbeing as lockdown restrictions lift. We’ve compiled helpful resources and expert insight from Gosia Bowling, emotional wellbeing enhancement and prevention lead at Nuffield Health, to help you feel confident as you take the first few steps towards your new normal routine.

Take your time

With the world slowly getting back to normal, you may feel a pressure to engage with everything straightaway. However, there’s no need to rush, and doing everything at once may leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Instead, ease yourself back into your normal schedule pre-lockdown and plan out your activities so you only have a couple per week, leaving time to relax and recuperate between each ‘new’ experience whether that be scheduling the first time that you commute back into work (if you are able to do so), meeting up with friends or going to the shops. This way, it will feel less overwhelming as you adjust to new experiences.

“Ease back into socialising at your own pace,” adds counsellor Sarah Lane. “I’d recommend initially meeting up with people who you trust and feel comfortable being yourself around.

Determine whether you feel less anxious meeting up with one person, or with a small group, and start with the situation you feel most relaxed in. Then you can extend to seeing people you feel more anxious with, and to more challenging situations, once you’ve built your confidence up a bit again.”

Planning can be helpful

If you’re nervous about your first commute, or trip to the gym, planning can help you feel more in control of the situation that you are going into. Try writing down a list of everything that you think you’ll need for your trip, and even try planning out the route and how long you think it will take. Feeling prepared should help you to feel reassured as you adjust back into your normal routine.

Personal development coach and counsellor Julie Crowley says, “Remember, you have the personal power to manage your environment at home and outside. You can ask people to keep their distance, take your own precautions and avoid those situations you feel might be riskier than others.”

Remember to breathe

It may sound simple but, when we experience stress, our breathing gets faster and shallower. When you feel yourself getting worked up, breathe slowly and deeply into your belly to override your stress response so that you feel calmer.

Also, pay attention to the length of your exhales and inhales. Try to breathe fewer than 12 breaths a minute, as slower respirations decrease the body’s stress response.

Be kind to yourself

As some of us begin to return to our normal routines, now more than ever, it is important to be kind to yourself. If you’re struggling with re-entry anxiety, try speaking to yourself with kindness. It’s easier to imagine what you would say to encourage a friend.

For example, you could tell yourself, “It’s okay that I’m feeling hesitant about going back to normal – I’ve been isolating for months, and my home has become my comfort zone”, or “Lots of other people must be feeling the same way – we’re all in the same boat”.

Practising self-kindness and compassion may help you to become more accepting as things return to normal, and is also a great way to improve your emotional wellbeing. If you struggle with self-compassion, try these techniques from compassion-focused therapy to help you show kindness to yourself and your mental health.

Reflect on, and put words to, your experience

Communication is important as we navigate this new normal. When a thought or feeling arises, acknowledge it and put words to your experiences. For example, “I am feeling a little anxious” and take a moment at the end of each day to reflect on the things that made you feel better.

Write down ‘pressure points’ which make you feel stressed and take some time to prepare yourself before a social situation or journey by performing some breathing techniques to increase your level of coherence and focus.

Don’t be afraid to talk to those around you about how you’re feeling either. Chances are, they will be grateful to you for opening up, and it will help you to set boundaries with others as to what you feel comfortable doing.

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