Many are afraid of returning to normal life after one of the world’s strictest lockdowns is lifted

Following the UK’s long and most severe lockdown in May, Kitty Grew started to commute from her north London home to her office five miles away, as part of a dry-run program. She wakes up early in the morning to ride her bike a few blocks down a suburban lane of terraced houses toward the city every evening after logging off from her laptop and closing its lid. “I have been trying to practice, to go out every day and go a bit further and a bit further,” said Grew, who is helping the National Health Service organize London’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign. As a kind of exposure therapy, she describes these practice runs as a way to mentally prepare for her return to work in August or September.I’m training like I’m going to run a marathon,” she added.Her anxiety and agoraphobia, which she had kept in check before the pandemic, became much worse during lockdown. Leaving home became increasingly daunting, even to walk through her neighborhood. Since January 2020, she has not been on the Tube — which now has signs prohibiting passengers from wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

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Despite a persistent battle to contain a virus that keeps evolving, many Brits such as Grew find the idea of returning to the office, taking crowded public transportation, or grabbing a pint with friends at a busy pub overwhelming, if not downright terrifying. As soon as things opened up for them, Grew noted, “they were ready to go clubbing, going to festivals or going on trips.” She, on the other hand, said, “Oh, wow, I feel anxious just getting on the bus to work.”Grew, who has been working with a therapist to develop coping mechanisms, said he cannot imagine flying overseas or even going out to a club.”Freedom day” was originally scheduled to take place on June 21 — the date when the last vestiges of the lengthy lockdown would be lifted — but the government paused the celebration until July 19 over concerns over the Delta virus variant first identified in India, known as B.1.617.2.There was an outcry from sections of the population desperate to put the pandemic behind them. #ImDone trended on Twitter, and the Sun newspaper asked “Will we ever be ready for freedom?”On its front page, it has the words “Nation’s torment” beneath them.Boris Johnson announced this week his plan to put the focus on individual responsibility for things like social distancing and wearing masks rather than legal requirements. However, he warned people that “this pandemic is far from over and it will certainly not be over by [July] 19th,” since Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the UK. “I don’t want people to think this is the end for Covid … The fight against the virus is not over,” he said.Afterward, a number of restauranteurs, hairdressers, and shops were reopened joyfully. Those who are not happy with a full reopening are still on the sidelines.

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“Over the past 18 months we have been trained that being around people and out in the world is associated with a threat,” said psychologist and author Emma Kavanagh. “Our brain has become accustomed to that, so it is going to trigger a stress response when we are exposed again.”As the first lockdown in Britain began last March and Kavanagh was struggling with anxiety, she began exploring neurological responses to extreme environments.It was so stressful that she became hysterical, fearing she would not survive. “I was unable to concentrate.”. The same thing happened to me as everyone else.Kavanagh, who suffered from long-term carpal tunnel syndrome while homeschooling her children, took to social media to discuss burnout, brain fog, and the other surreal symptoms of pandemic life. She offers insights into coping with sustained stress in her new book, How to be Broken, which is based on her popular Twitter threads.Kavanagh provides one key piece of advice for those fearing they will never be ready for a new normal: Give it time. “Enduring trauma may not just expose you to resilience, but it may also enable you to flourish afterward,” she told CNN.While there is uncertainty about how lockdowns will affect anxiety and depression, some psychologists predict these mental states will persist even after restrictions are loosened. Newly-reappointed US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has warned that unprecedented stress and isolation from the pandemic could lead to a “social recession” that has profound and lasting effects on our health, happiness, and productivity. 

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A commuter waits for a train at London Bridge Station. Laws on social distancing and mask wearing look set to be lifted later this month.Researchers have expressed concerns that issues developed during lockdowns – compulsive hygiene habits, fear of public spaces, constant monitoring of Covid symptoms – will complicate reintegration into society. The psychological helpline charity Anxiety UK recently carried out a survey to find out what percentage of people are looking forward to returning to normal life and what percentage would rather stay home. This number is 36%.In Britain, the Mental Health Foundation has been examining the pandemic’s impact on mental health. During the country’s third lockdown that began in January, fewer people said they were anxious, but more said they were lonely and overwhelmed by the stress of the past year. Research manager Catherine Seymour said certain groups were especially vulnerable, including young people, unemployed individuals and single parents, who reported feeling more distressed than British adults overall.Those who have been shielding themselves from socialization are likely to find it harder to then reintegrate. “Those who have not been able to go to school or have not had activities on hand are likely to find it more difficult,” Seymour said. A part of our confidence in going out into the world is taken away.

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Having to close their schools, curtail their social lives, and wait longer for vaccines, young people have borne the brunt of the sacrifices primarily meant to protect older people. Some psychologists and behavioral scientists say the belief that they would be more resilient after the pandemic may have been overblown. Stage manager Amy Clement, 26, has trouble imagining how life will be different after the pandemic. “For the first half, I felt like I could hold on to what I had, but now that it has been so long, I am starting over.” The Lion King was touring the UK and Ireland when Clement landed a dream job backstage. When the pandemic struck, the show was canceled, and she returned home to live with her family. The British government lifted, reimposed and then extended a series of lockdowns until Clement felt anxious about the future, unsure she would ever be able to go back to work or socialize with friends. “It was like a ticking time bomb,” she said.Now, with the help of counseling and support from her family and boyfriend, Clement has started to move past that sense of panic. She is setting small, achievable goals, making plans and easing back into socializing. 

While lockdowns have occurred, not everyone has received adequate assistance. Turner said she was expecting an increase in demand for mental health services as people start reentering society. While many of Mind’s counseling services are still available, most are performed remotely, making them less accessible to everyone. People waited in person for a long time. Now that they’ve returned, they need immediate support,” Turner explained, adding that some waited to get treated, believing the outbreak would be over soon.Johnson urged the British public to learn to live with this disease in the same way that other diseases are managed.It is an alarming prospect for many. “It’s my biggest fear,” said Penny, a 52-year-old accountant who requested anonymity. “I have no idea how I can live with Covid, and live with that constant fear of getting sick.”The 26-year-old, who suffers from an immunodeficiency and lives alone in south London, rarely leaves her home and has barely had any face-to-face contact in the past year. Lockdowns have made her anxious and induce panic attacks, she says. Her immune system is still shielding her from the virus even after receiving two Covid-19 shots. She said, “Some friends will call and ask if I’m still isolated. They say, ‘You can’t sit at home forever,'” she said. The feeling of being trapped makes me want to go out.Adding, “I have lost my life.”.The crippling social isolation of living alone has been particularly acute in Britain, where the government effectively prohibited sex between singles who were not living together during the first lockdown; later restrictions were similarly stringent, allowing only individuals to form “support bubbles” with one other household. “Will people bounce back?” asks Elise Paul, who directs the UK COVID-19 Social Study. “We don’t know because the case has lasted for so long,” she said. “I’ve heard more reports about depression symptoms in singles, and loneliness in people living alone.”

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As a result of the pandemic, many families are also suffering. A recent study by the UK’s Office of National Statistics showed that 39% of people in marriage or civil partnerships were anxious compared with 19% prior to the pandemic. Taking care of others as well as juggling obligations fueled the rise.London-based author Jessica Pan, a self-described introvert, says the first lockdown caused her social anxiety to resurface, leaving her feeling scared and isolated just as she learned she was pregnant with her first child. Prior to the pandemic, Pan lived life as an out-and-out extrovert during the research for her book Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come. Having had a child, she now finds herself turning down almost all social engagements out of fear for her baby’s health.A city without air conditioning in a heatwave in June tempted Pan with an invitation to a friend’s garden. It was her son’s first time playing in a paddling pool, and she chatted with local parents from her antenatal class who she had never met in person. In a fit of regret, she rushed into her son’s room the next morning when he came down with a fever. The test came back negative, but it’s not worth the risk. I don’t want to lie awake at night wondering if I have Covid, or if I’ve given it to my child,” she said. The ability to be carefree is gone, and that is so sad.”Many have expressed anxiety about rejoining society, and others have expressed fear. From speaking with dozens of Brits, one thing is clear: Many of them are experiencing some kind of anxiety reopening issue.

“We did this survey on well-being at my work and they did one of those word clouds where they asked everyone to type in what they were feeling. I said I was feeling tired and anxious, and those were the two biggest words by far,” Grew said, stroking her cat Nelson.

Originall article by CNN

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