Post-lockdown anxiety: What is it and how to cope

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·Features and Health Editor
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After hundreds of days spent in lockdowns, Melbournians were finally given the good news their sixth time under stay-at-home orders is coming to an end on Thursday night at 11:59pm.

On top of that, Sydneysiders just enjoyed their first full week of freedom, after NSW also eased lockdown restrictions after four months. 

But as many a social media feed was likely flooded with celebrations, gatherings and outings, the major shift back to something closer to normality can leave some people more anxious than excited.

Friends hanging out at big music festival
Millions of Aussies are coming out of lockdown. Photo: Getty

Maybe we've gotten used to the comfort of our own homes and are a little overwhelmed about the thought of going back into the office, or mingling in large crowds in public.

But as Dr Frank Chow, director and psychiatrist at 2OP Health, explains, it is completely normal to be feeling nervous about the change of environment, and you're definitely not alone.

"With the lockdown restrictions being lifted and states beginning to open up again, we are now encouraged to go out based on the government and health advice and people's routines and habits will inevitably change," Dr Chow tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

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"And for some, this means exiting their new comfort zone, which may initially cause feelings of discomfort and anxiety for Australians transitioning from life in lockdown to life after lockdown.

"We have been asked to stay at home for months due to the danger of contracting coronavirus and have likely felt a sense of safety being at home."

woman stressed post lockdown
Life post-lockdown can be stressful for some. Photo: Getty

What are some of the feelings we may experience?

When it comes to heading back out into the big wide world, Dr Chow says feelings of anxiety, confusion and being uncomfortable are not uncommon.

He also points out that a lack of motivation, energy and fatigue is likely.

"As we have all stayed home for three months, naturally, our energy tolerance would have reduced," he says.

"So going back to previous routines where people have to commute to work, begin to socialise and go out with friends and family might be very exhausting early on."

In fact, new research by Australian Bananas revealed that nearly half of Australians (46%) are nervous that they will not have enough energy to connect with others, exercise or even commute when the restrictions ease.

And almost three-quarters (74%) of Aussies feel they will need more energy post lockdown to carry out normal daily activities, and even leave the house.

Dietitian Susie Burrell says it is understandable Aussies have mixed emotions about our daily routines changing again.

"My go-to energising foods are rich in Vitamin B. Bananas are a great choice to help boost your mood and regulate your blood glucose levels," Susie explains. "At a time when many of us are feeling far from our best and are looking towards a busy few months ahead, making eating well a priority will go a long way in ensuring you have the fuel to do all the things you need."

Caucasian woman sitting by the table at home cutting banana
Many of us might need more energy to do simple tasks. Photo: Getty

If you're anxious about being in crowds

Dr Chow says not having face-to-face contact with people over a long period of time can sometimes see people experience 'social anxiety' in social and crowded settings. And of course the ongoing fear of contracting the virus doesn't help.

"I would advise people to focus on the things that we can control. Such as our health, vaccination status, social distancing, and going to places that have Covid safe practices," he suggests.

"Begin your social interactions with a gradual introduction to life after lockdown, perhaps smaller groups, then overtime larger gatherings until you feel more at ease. 

"It’s also important to learn to focus on the person/people we are with, who may also be experiencing the same emotions – this may help shift the tension and anxiety."

store opens after lockdown
Do things gradually. Photo: Getty

If you're nervous about heading back to the office

Dr Chow says employers should help set expectations when it comes to staff returning to the office and suggests they plan for employees to return in a gradual fashion.

"We know, physically and psychologically, it will take a while to get back to into a new routine and lifestyle, out of lockdown. We are used it it by now," he says.

"I also encourage people to have a conversation with colleagues and bosses about how you are feeling.

"Speak collectively, share common concerns, and discuss the solutions and measures that can be put in place to create a return-to-office plan most will be comfortable with."

If you're experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression contact Beyond Blue or Headspace.

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