‘Lockdown anxiety’ – you’re not alone in feeling it

Two women drinking coffee in a cafe

Alice Piper

Posted November 19, 2021

As restrictions continue to be lifted, many Victorians have mixed emotions about re-entering society. Here’s how to cope. 

Victorians are returning to pre-pandemic levels of freedom, with the State Government announcing almost all restrictions will be scrapped once the state reaches 90 per cent double vaccination for those aged 12 and over. Vaccination requirements will remain in place for most activities.

But as we begin readjusting to ‘normal’ life, everyone will be feeling differently. Some people may be already filling their social calendars, where as others might be feeling emotions from excitement and relief, to anxiety and stress. 

Rachel Bowes, Head of Crisis Services and Quality at Lifeline Australia says these feelings are completely normal.

“There are a lot of people who have enjoyed the narrowing of their lives. They’ve focused on family and have simplified a lot – so it’s very normal to have anxiety about going out.”

“The important thing to remember is you’re not the only one feeling this way, which is something we need to normalise,” she adds. 

Bowes also says that with restrictions easing, we should “Take this as an opportunity to reassess what we want from life and how we want it to look”.  

So, if you are feeling anxious about the coming weeks and months, here are some tools to help ease your way back into society so you feel as comfortable about it as possible. 

If you’re not ready to socialise

For a lot of people, pre-pandemic life included things like dinners, mid-week catch ups, weekends away with family and friends, birthday parties, celebrations, and generally having a pretty full calendar. 

Bowes says that although we’re looking forward to these things resuming, “The perception that everyone has been counting down the days is probably not true”. 

Her advice for anyone who is anxious about socialising is to “take baby steps”.

“Be selective about who you see. Think about the people you’ve missed most and just focus on that,” she says. 

“It doesn’t need to be a big dinner in a restaurant. It can be a simple lunch at home with your close family.”

But perhaps the best thing you can do if you’re really not ready, according to Bowes, is: “Just say no.”

“Be honest about the fact you’re not ready and maybe suggest a more low-key version of what the other person suggested.”

If you’re still concerned about COVID-19 and getting ill

“These worries are so legitimate,” says Bowes. 

To make yourself more comfortable, Bowes suggests seeking out medical advice or looking at official websites with reputable information to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. 

“This will help give you the confidence to be out in society,” she says. 

“And if it helps you to keep your mask on and do things like socially distance, even when the time comes that we don’t have to, then do that.”

If you don’t want to hug your friends yet

It’s natural to embrace the people we love the most, so it can be hard if you’re still in a headspace where you’re uncomfortable about it. 

Bowes suggests having an open and honest conversation with your friends and family about where your concerns are coming from, as this will help support your own mental health, and those around you

“Let them know that just because physical touch still makes you a bit nervous, it doesn’t mean you don’t love and care for them,” she says. 

“You also don’t need to justify yourself. Remember that you’re on your own timeline and you’ll eventually be ready to hug and kiss your loved ones again.” 

Group of friends socialising

Social gatherings don't need to be huge affairs. Keep it simple until you feel comfortable. Image: Getty

If you still want to stay at home

It’s easy to forget how long the adjustment period was when it came to staying at home a lot of the time, so it’s normal for it to take a while to adjust to being in society again.  

“This is something I think a lot of people will be feeling,” says Bowes. 

“You don’t have to have your old life back if you don’t want to. If you enjoy the time at home and it’s a positive thing in your life, then keep doing it, and simply incorporate social activities when you’re ready,” she adds.  

Bowes also says that taking time at home to rest and be mindful can be hugely beneficial when dealing with eased restrictions, as you’ll allow yourself time to recuperate from what will be more big changes in our lives. 

If you’re nervous about returning to work 

Open and honest conversation is key, according to Bowes. 

“Talk to HR, as well as your boss and be honest about what’s concerning you and how the company can address these concerns,” she says.  

“There is always a work-around, so although these conversations can be tough, it’s so important to speak up as this will hugely ease your anxieties about going to an office.”

And while the easing of restrictions will place different pressures and feeling on everyone, the one thing Bowes says is essential to feeling comfortable with re-entering society is to “talk to the people you’re closest to and ask them how they’re feeling about it”. 

“Sometimes we think we’re the only ones feeling this way, but as soon as we start talking, we realise there’s a lot of people feeling this way.”

If you or someone you know feels overwhelmed or in need of support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 at any time of the day or night.