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Living with anxiety post-pandemic

It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world on a global scale. As individuals, we experienced huge changes to our daily lives, including working from home, social distancing, learning to spend extended amounts of time alone, and video calling our loved ones on holidays and special occasions. Some people adapted well to the change, enjoying the slower pace of life and the break from a once rigid nine-to-five lifestyle, and others struggled with the isolation and the fear of the unknown.


What was my experience?

As someone who has lived with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) for most of my adult life, I was one of the fortunate ones who settled well into the new routine that the lockdown created for me. I was much happier working from home every day instead of commuting to the office on a crowded bus or train, and I enjoyed the financial benefits that came with not being able to go out to bars and restaurants on the weekend.


The one thing that surprised me the most during that period was the number of people who started talking about anxiety. I found myself speaking to people about mental health who had never experienced anxiety before the pandemic, some of whom had been quite dismissive of my anxiety in the past when they didn’t understand it well. As the first lockdown began to lift, bars and restaurants opened, and we were encouraged to socialise again in small groups. At this stage, the repercussions of a summer indoors became apparent. People who had fallen out of their routines were suddenly nervous about being outside – perhaps from a fear of catching COVID, or because they had spent so long inside, away from other people.


I had also grown accustomed to the quiet tube carriages and the empty buses. I had felt at peace when I was standing in a queue and the people in front of and behind me would stand two metres away. I had gotten used to socialising in small groups instead of large ones. At the start of the lockdown, my manager at work gushed about the possibility of us working from home permanently, but suddenly the demand was that we all return to the office three days a week. My life quickly changed from sipping tea on my sofa and working at my own time and pace to the old way of life: crowded public transport, large in-person meetings and presentations, and huge social gatherings.


Whether your anxiety was born out of lockdown, exacerbated by it, or brought on by a return to reality, there are a few important things to do and remember to stop it from becoming all-consuming.


Keep doing things

For many of you who are new to the world of anxiety, I am quite confident that you will see it dissipate as we readapt to a busier world. It is crucial to keep doing the things you used to, even if those things suddenly seem frightening and overwhelming. When you avoid doing something, your anxiety temporarily reduces, and you teach your brain that avoiding it was the right choice. The next time you try to do it, the anxiety and adrenaline comes back to make you avoid it again. To reduce the anxiety, we must do the things that scare us.


This is within the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Do something that scares you, realise that it's not as bad as your thoughts told you it would be, and experience a less intense fear the next time you do it, until the anxiety is gone.


Take your time. Do things at your own pace. If you don’t want to get on the crowded train, wait for the next one. Take an alternative, quieter route. But you must keep trying to get on that train until you are no longer scared of it.





Requesting changes

One of the fundamental shifts in my thinking during the lockdown was centred on my workplace. I became more confident at challenging my managers and saying no when I disagreed with something. Perhaps conducting conversations over a Teams call makes it easier to do so, or maybe we feel more confident when we are sitting in our own homes, surrounded by our home comforts. When my employer insisted on returning to the office three days a week, I knew it would be too much for me to manage, at least without a phased return. I spoke with my manager and told them that I would be more than happy to attend the office one day per week, but any more than that would need to come with a work-related explanation as to why my presence in the office was necessary so often. Not everyone is comfortable with citing mental health at work, but it is much better understood in recent years, especially since the pandemic.


My plan worked, and I currently only go into the office one day per week. Immediately changing from a quiet schedule to a hectic one would be detrimental to my anxiety. It is important when we suffer from anxiety to understand our triggers and know what would help diffuse any stress. Furthermore, we should try where possible to talk about mental health at work and break the stigma that surrounds it. Nobody should feel ashamed of talking about their mental health.




Take time out

From spending seven days a week at home to suddenly being in the office, surrounded by friends at bars or navigating your way through a crowded train station, you may find it overstimulating and exhausting to be around others so frequently, even if you missed it during the lockdown. Make sure you take time for self-care to decompress, switch off from the world around you and focus on yourself. Taking time out from the world can help reduce anxiety and better prepare you for the next outing.



Professional help

If you are struggling to do things that you used to do before the pandemic and are not coping by yourself, seek professional help. Contact your GP or local IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service. Waiting lists can be lengthy, but if you do not seek help and cannot manage on your own then your mental health may suffer further.


As humans, we adapt quickly. Entire countries stopped what they were doing and stayed home for months, and it was often referred to as ‘the new normal.’ By the same logic, we will adapt again to bustling streets and packed trains, provided we take the time to check in with ourselves regularly and learn the right tools to keep ourselves prepared and calm. The number of people suffering from anxiety increased because of the pandemic, but it can and will go back down.

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