From the moment lockdown began, we all started reminiscing about the things we took for granted in normal life. Freedom to have a few friends round for dinner, go and have a dance in as many bars as you want or even popping over to see loved ones for a catch up became a sought-after memory.
Well, now that restrictions have eased, we seem to be getting closer to those wishes becoming a reality. But as exciting as it seems, for some, the prospect of venturing back into the world also comes with a great deal of anxiety.
Overnight we have gone from working at home with one walk a day to suddenly having countless options. For some, their diaries have completely filled up, leading to feelings of overwhelm. For others, the first few social outings have already left them exhausted.
If the thought of socialising again leaves you full of anxiety, chances are you may be feeling a little guilty for not jumping at the opportunity to catch up with friends and family. However, there is no right way to get back to socialising, and the important thing is that it works for you. And don’t rush to compare yourself to others and their approach.
So, how can we counteract these feelings? How can we go about rebuilding the confidence that we seem to have lost, and find ways to enjoy the easing of lockdown?
It might sound strange to talk about confidence being something that we can practice. But confidence is like a muscle, and over the past year, we’ve had fewer opportunities to use it. We’ve become used to a quieter way of life with less stimulation. Opportunities to spend time with each other have been few and far between, and as a result, some of our relational skills have faded.
To put it simply, we’ve lost some of the confidence that helps us to navigate our social and relational world – both the joys and the difficulties – and the easing of lockdown may provide something of a sensory overload. To find that you’re struggling with seemingly everyday things might even come as a surprise, and the fact that it’s unexpected probably makes it even more daunting. Take your time and look for ways to practice rebuilding your confidence. Start small and build your way up.
It’s understandable that we might want to jump back into our social lives, but it shouldn’t be done to the detriment of our health. It's important to balance it with enough downtime.
I’ll often speak about how we all have a threat centre, a drive centre and a sooth centre, and how we want these regulatory centres to be in balance. Our threat centre protects us from danger, while drive gets us out and about.
The problem here is that lots of things which we would assume originate from drive actually come from threat. We do something because we’re worried about being seen as lazy or getting in trouble, rather than because we’re genuinely motivated.
If you’re filling up your social calendar to the point that it’s feeling overwhelming, it might be the result of this sort of imbalance. Ask yourself; are you committing to so much because it brings you joy or because you’re worried about missing out? Perhaps you’re seeing friends heading out on social media and feel as though you should be doing the same?
Yes, book in some social engagements. But do it steadily and set aside some time to bring your sooth centre into balance. Be honest with yourself at how much downtime you really need. It’s a good thing. Perhaps even plan to keep the odd weekend free, specifically for the purpose of enjoying some rest and relaxation.
Find ways to control the situation
Human beings tend to feel safe when the stresses we’re facing are predictable. If you’re feeling nervous about lockdown ending, focus on the things you can influence and control. For instance, decide beforehand that if you arrive at a social event and find it uncomfortable, you’ll give yourself permission to leave.
Another good way to build confidence and take control of a situation is to prepare for it. If you’re going back to the office for the first time, and feeling nervous about the prospect of a whole day’s worth of socialising with your colleagues again, can you think up a few conversation-starters beforehand? Even rehearsing a situation in your imagination can be helpful. The imagination is designed to prime us for action. We can use it to prepare for a situation and build up to it gradually.
Celebrate your achievements
You might feel foolish for being intimidated by a simple trip to a pub garden. Or even to a friend’s house. And when you push through those fears, you might not feel as though you’ve done something that deserves to be celebrated.
But the simple fact is that in the throes of a global pandemic, challenging yourself to do something daunting – however seemingly small – is an achievement. And it’s important to celebrate our achievements, because when we do, we can find the strength to push ourselves further.
As lockdown eases, it’s important to reflect on what we’ve been through. What was the thing you missed the most during lockdown? Prioritise that. This experience made everyone hit pause on their lives, perhaps just enough to slow down and shift gear prioritising something they may not have previously.
Take the time to identify what’s important to you, which hobbies bring you joy and where you want to spend your time. The restrictions have been lifted but that doesn’t mean we need to rush forward at lightning speed. Sometimes we need to just take stock.
This year has challenged us all in ways we could have never predicated. That in itself is an achievement worth recognition. While we might not always feel resilient, the truth is that we are.
Take pride in how far you have come as you move forward.
Ultimately, confidence is built by acknowledging how difficult things were, identifying what we did to overcome it and then building on those foundations.
Kirsty Lilley is a mental health expert at CABA