11 tips to cope with anxiety about coming out of lockdown

Easing of lockdown will allow us to get back to the people and things we love, but it’s OK if you feel worried about going back to something more "normal" as lockdown restrictions loosen.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has been hard for us all and we have all experienced the effects differently, including those of us who have been shielding.

Even positive change can lead to anxiety, and it can take time to readjust to things we have not done for a while.

Feelings of post-lockdown anxiety are likely to pass with time as we get used to the "new normal" but it’s important to do what we can to take care of our mental health.

There are lots of things that can help you to manage these feelings and make it easier to adjust.

Here are our top tips for taking care of your mental health as things change.

1. Go at your own pace

It might be tempting to make lots of plans and say yes to everything as things start to open up, but there’s no need to rush.

Take it step by step, and only do what is comfortable and safe for you to ease back into socialising – then you can build your time back up as your confidence returns.

2. Do not avoid things entirely

Avoiding the things that make us anxious can sometimes feel like the easier option in the short term, but this can make it harder to start facing our fears in the longer term.

Instead, try to set yourself small but manageable targets – like meeting 1 person for a coffee or snack outside, or getting a haircut – and gradually build up from there.

It can help to confide in a friend or family member so they can support you to overcome your anxieties.

3. Get your information from the right sources

Lots of conflicting and confusing information about COVID-19 and the easing of restrictions, makes it hard to know what you can and cannot do or who to trust.

If you are not sure what is or is not allowed, stick to trusted sources like GOV.UK and the NHS COVID-19 pages for the most up-to-date information.

4. Discuss any changes with others

Before socialising with others, talk about the situation with them to make sure everybody is on the same page about what feels comfortable.

If you live with other people, it’s a good idea to talk to them about changes to restrictions as well. Being aware of everybody’s fears and expectations can help to avoid conflict.

If you are worried that changes to restrictions may put pressure on your family, help for parents is available.

5. Make time to relax

Being able to see more of our friends and family, and visit places that might have been closed until now, is exciting. But it can also be a lot to take in all at once, so it’s important to find regular time for yourself to relax too.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Sometimes, when we feel anxious, it can make our muscles feel tense and it can be tricky to relax both our bodies and our minds. One way to help us feel calmer is focusing on how our muscles feel using special relaxation techniques. Muscle contraction and relaxation can help us de-stress and release tension in our bodies. It helps us become more aware of the contrast between tense and relaxed states. While the cause of our stress might not go away relaxation can leave us in a more positive position to deal with it It can help us feel less &lsdquo;on edge’. And if you find it tricky to relax, don’t worry! It takes time to learn just like any other skill. Once we’ve mastered it, we can use it for the rest of our lives. So let’s practice some simple muscle relaxation. It’ll take about 10 minutes and all you need is a comfy, quiet place.

Dim the lights, turn off the telly even turn off your phone, or put it on silent. Start by making yourself comfortable whether it’s on the floor, on the bed, or sitting down. Ready? Okay. First, try and let your muscles go limp. Release as much tension as you can. Good. Now, gently breathe in hold it for a few moments and let go. Next, gently pull your toes up towards your knees just a little hold briefly and let go. Notice how that feels. Now press your heels into the floor hold and let go. Pull your knees together hold briefly now let them drift apart a little Be aware of the new position. Squeeze your buttocks together hold now let go. Next, gently pull in your tummy muscles towards your spine hold briefly now let go. Feel the difference in tension? Remember to breathe gently. Take your time with each motion. Next, let’s try shoulders. Gently pull them up towards your ears just enough to recognise the tension hold briefly now let go. Gently press your elbows and upper arms to the sides of your body hold for a moment now let go.

Next focus on your hands Gently clench hold and let go. Push your head forward slightly hold briefly now let your head go back to a balanced position. How does that feel? Can you notice the change in tense and relaxed states? Now, grit your teeth together gently hold briefly now let your jaw sag slightly Focus on the sensations. Does it feel good? now focus on your lips. press together now let go until hardly touching. Purse your lips now let go and feel the difference. Press your tongue briefly to the roof of your mouth hold and let it drop loosely Feel the new position. We’re almost done! Just remember to keep breathing. Next focus on your eyes. Screw them up a little hold and let go. Next focus on your forehead. frown a little hold now let go. Now spend a few moments enjoying the feeling of release, releasing a little more with each exhale. How did that feel? If you want, you can repeat everything a few times more, holding a little longer and relaxing even more. Take a few moments to focus on your breathing and think about how your body feels against the floor, chair or bed. Come out of your relaxed state slowly. Try and maintain that sense of relaxation as you go about your day. As you get better at relaxing in this quiet scenario, you can learn “applied relaxation”. This is all about focusing on our body when we feel a lot of stress or muscle tension, in any scenario. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference these exercises can make. Next time you’re feeling stressed or tense allow a little time to relax your muscles.

6. Challenge unhelpful thoughts

It’s natural to feel worried every now and again, but our anxious thoughts can sometimes be unhelpful.

If you can learn to identify and separate unhelpful thoughts from helpful ones, you can find a different way to look at the situation. Watch our video to find out more.

Reframing unhelpful thoughts

Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours continually affect each other, and it’s easy to develop negative patterns where unhelpful thoughts lead to unhelpful feelings and actions. Sometimes this can become a vicious cycle. Many of us don’t realise that we can influence this process and that this can improve our mental health. The best way to deal with these unhelpful thoughts is to recognise them, challenge them, and see if you can replace them Some people call this the catch it check it change it approach. With practise, this can help us look at perceived problems from a different perspective. For example, you might be worried about an important task you have to do at work, convinced it will go wrong and everyone will think you’re a failure. Rather than immediately accepting this thought, and feeling even worse, take a moment to catch it and check it. Ask yourself whether there’s good evidence for it, or if there are other explanations. Try thinking about what you would say to a friend who was thinking this way. Finally, see if you can change the thought for a more positive one. Maybe, “I’m prepared. I’ve put a lot of work in and I’m gonna do my best.” Sometimes you will be able to change the thought to a positive one. But don’t worry when at other times you can’t. There are no right or wrong answers. It’s about learning to think more flexibly and be more in control. By catching the thought, checking it, and seeing if you can change it, with practise you can help break the negative cycle.

7. Tell someone how you feel

It’s easy to feel isolated or lonely when we’re struggling. However, chances are that someone we know feels exactly how we do too.

Opening up to a person we trust can be really helpful, whether it’s a friend or family member, a GP or an organisation’s helpline or online forum.

If you are not ready to start socialising but are feeling lonely, there’s plenty of support out there, like the “Let’s Talk Loneliness Campaign”, and people you can speak to at any time.

8. Plan social occasions

Uncertainty can be hard to manage but making plans can help you avoid this. Preparing for any challenges ahead of time can help us to feel more comfortable and confident in what we’re doing.

That “plan” can be as simple as knowing what time an event will start and finish, and how many people are likely to be there.

9. Find routine where you can

During lockdown, life changed for us all and we developed new routines. Even if your normal weekday or weekend habits begin to change again now, some things can stay the same.

Are there areas in your life where it’s easier to stick to a routine? Something as simple as going to bed and waking up at the same time each day or making sure to stick to your set lunch break can make a big difference.

Tips for sleeping better

Getting a good night’s sleep can make a huge difference to our lives and our mental health. Managing our sleep can help us improve our mood, make us more productive, and improve our concentration during the day. It’s important to get a good routine in place and make the room as restful as possible, to help us sleep well at night. To start with, try and go to sleep at a similar time each evening, if you can. This will help regulate your body clock, and makes falling asleep easier. Before you go to bed, taking some time out to relax will help you switch off. Why not try reading a book or listening to relaxing music, instead of watching TV. Breathing exercises or keeping a diary can also help you reflect on your day, and feel more restful. It’s best to avoid caffeinated or sugary drinks in the hours before bed. Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep, so maybe choose a warm, milky drink or herbal tea instead. Herbal tea is known for its relaxing properties, so it’s a good, soothing choice before bed. Smoking and drinking alcohol can also have disruptive effects on your sleep, so it’s smart to avoid these when you need a good night’s rest. It’s also much easier to sleep in a darker room. You can remove any excess brightness by making sure your curtains block out the light and are pulled tight or you could even wear an eye mask if that’s not possible.

While it can be tricky, attempt not to check your phone for an hour before bed. Limiting screen time gives your brain a chance to get into sleep mode. You could even turn off all screens and move charging devices into another room. It’s hard to sleep when there’s a lot going on around you. If you live in a noisy area, you could experiment with using earplugs to block out some of the sound. Thinking too much about not sleeping and watching the clock at night can create worry and harm a good night’s sleep. Consider turning your clock away so you can’t see it during the night, and put your phone out of arm’s reach, or even in another room. If you’re really struggling to fall asleep after twenty minutes or more, it can help to simply get up for a few minutes, which will help you avoid lying awake worrying. Have a drink, and do something relaxing like reading, listening to soft music or doing some gentle yoga. Then go back to bed when you’re feeling a bit sleepier. Hopefully these tips will help you get the rest that your body and brain deserve.

10. Write down your thoughts

If you’re feeling worried or upset it can be helpful to explore your feelings by keeping a diary or journal.

This can also be a great way to track your mood over time and remind yourself of the progress you have made. As your confidence begins to grow, you can look back over your entries to see how far you have come.

11. Focus on the present

When there is lots of change happening, we can get caught up in worrying about the future and the past.

Instead, try to shift your focus to the present – make plans but try not to dwell on "what ifs" or what was "supposed" to happen. Relaxation, mindfulness or getting outside and enjoying nature are all good ways to help you focus on the present.

Mindful breathing

So often we’re caught up in life’s demands with no time to stop, but becoming more aware of your own thoughts and feelings and what’s around you, and accepting the present moment, can help improve your mental health and wellbeing. Doing this affects both the mental and the physical you. Some people call this being more mindful. Focusing on the present means paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, right here, right now. Breathing exercises are a great way to focus on the present and be more mindful. Doing this can also help when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.

Firstly, settle into a natural, comfortable position. When you’re ready, take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. Breathe naturally, noticing the sensations of the breath entering and leaving the body as best you can. Allow your shoulders and neck to relax, focusing on your breathing, just being aware of it. Focus on how your body feels. What sensations do you notice? Do you feel your feet on the floor, or the feeling of your clothes on your skin? Take this time to pay close attention to physical sensations, from the top of your head right down to your toes. Notice what you’re thinking about right now and how you’re feeling. Just take the time to notice your thoughts and feelings without judgement, and without trying to change them. When you’re ready, take one more breath and try to bring this awareness with you into the next moments of your day. Breathing techniques like this one can help to centre you in the moment at any time, and connect you with the present, which can help if you’re feeling stressed or anxious.

Further support and advice

Our pages on common mental health issues and COVID-19 have lots more tips and advice, as well as support if you’re a parent or caregiver for a child or young person or helping others with mental health problems.

If you or one of your loved ones needs more support, the NHS is here to help. You can access NHS talking therapies for common mental health problems, delivered by IAPT services, by self-referring online or through your GP. Services have and will continue to be open throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.

Talking therapies are also available to older people, and translation or multi-lingual services might be available for those whose first language is not English.

If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, you can find an urgent local NHS mental health helpline to call for 24-hour advice and support, or visit our urgent support page.