How can I help my friend with post-lockdown anxiety?

If you’re a little freaked out by the reopening of society after the pandemic – you’re not alone.

The Cabinet’s roadmap to reopening shocked many people in its speediness and liberalism, with this week seeing intercounty travel, personal services (thank God), click and collect and a to a certain extent, household visits resuming. June second and seventh will see hotels and outdoor hospitality also opening their doors.

And we were all excited of course – no one wants to go back to Zoom quizzes or not seeing our family or being stuck in our 5km – but the general feeling was shock and even a little fear. Almost everyone I spoke to the weekend after the announcement seemed almost in shock, or in denial at the government’s announcement.

Woman in Green and White Stripe Shirt Covering Her Face With White Mask

Is it the jarring mindset re-shifting of being stuck in 5km for four months to suddenly having total freedom? Is it the dizzying reality that although more people are being vaccinated, case numbers are still static? Or is it that we’ve made an active effort to live as risk-free as possible, confining ourselves to our homes except for essentials and going back out into the great big world so suddenly and taking risks that we used to take without a second thought, is really overwhelming now?

Some of us may be struggling with this more than others for a variety of reasons. Lockdown was a different experience for everyone. Some people haven’t been outside the door due to health complications and others have been on the front line since day one. Some people have been gradually acclimatising the last month to restrictions easing while others are still recovering from either getting the virus or losing someone to it.

Either way, we can’t judge how and when someone chooses to come out of lockdown – but we can be there for them when they do. If one of your friends is seriously struggling with re-entry into society, they’re not alone. The threat is still very real, regardless of the vaccine progress and it can be difficult to make the mindset shift to getting back out there.

Person In Yellow Protective Suit

They may resent things reopening or feel they’re missing out on life, friends meeting up or opportunities as they try to cope with re-entry. But there are things you can do to help them with this process.

Be someone they can trust

There will be plenty of people who will think their fear of re-entry is ridiculous, so what they need is a safe space to air their fears and talk about what’s bothering them. Being non-judgemental and understanding is key. Their lockdown experience may be different to yours and they may be feeling pressure from others in your friends group to meet up and go places. Be a listening ear that they can trust with their venting.

Allow them to grieve

Despaired African American female with closed eyes touching face while sitting with pillow in light room at home on blurred background

While everything else is opening up and everyone is celebrating it may be hard to see people happy and leaving lockdown relatively unscathed. If they have lost someone, are vulnerable or just frightened of the threat that still exists, it can feel overwhelming to see the world moving on and returning to their old lives when so much has changed for them.

Don’t try to ‘fix’ their fears

You might completely understand why they feel a certain way or you might not – the point is, that’s how they feel about a very complex situation. They often don’t want you to fix anything they just want you to listen to their perspective and reasoning as to why they can’t or won’t do something or go somewhere. It’s their safety and it’s their decision. And if they don’t think certain situations are safe, you’re probably not going to change their mind or make them feel more comfortable by pressuring them to.

Make plans that suit them

If the gang are meeting up, ask them under what circumstances they would feel comfortable being there under. For example, try to ensure everyone keeps their distance, that there’s no hugging and that the meet up is outside (as it should be under current restrictions).

Ask how you can make it easier

The idea of going to a department store may totally freak them out, but they need some essentials, so you could offer to pick them up. Or even something as simple as they would prefer you wear masks when you meet up outdoors, then make an effort to wear your mask around them even if you don’t feel you need it outdoors.

Fiona Murphy is a freelance writer, specialising in book-related content, fiction and poetry. She can be found drinking tea, craving tapas or attempting to finish her never-ending-novel.

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