As some countries ease coronavirus restrictions, mental health experts note an emerging phenomenon; anxiety about life after confinement.
Meanwhile, people who continue to live under the strictest measures fear what will happen when these rules are lifted.
“It will be uncomfortable for most of us,” says Akanksha Bhatia.
The 25-year-old women’s rights and mental health writer and advocate lived with anxiety before the shutdown.
Akanksha posts on social media about living with anxiety and has been talking to her followers about how the condition affects her life in isolation. She lives and works in Delhi, but she moved back to Chennai to live with her parents while India is locked up.
“It hasn’t been that easy,” she says. A month after closing, she had a particularly bad day and cried a lot.
“All you can do is tell yourself that this will eventually end.”
Life under confinement
Like many people, Akanksha has had some difficulties during confinement. But there has also been a respite from some of the things that triggered her anxiety in her pre-coronavirus life, because she may be home with her parents, who help her feel safe.
Akanksha describes herself as an introvert and says that socializing is one of the things that makes her most anxious.
She feels relaxed and comfortable spending time with her family, so this has been a much lesser problem in the past few weeks. Now his concerns are focused on how he will return to his former life.
“Leaving the house, for someone with anxiety, is already something you think too much about,” she says.
“You’ll have to get used to it again, because you’ve been desensitized.”
Many people are concerned that their leaders may be lifting the closure too soon, increasing the infection rate. But some are also concerned about returning to a more normal life.
Effects of blocking
It won’t necessarily be people with an existing mental health condition that will be affected either.
“After being inside for a long time, it can be very strange to go outside,” says Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, a charity that supports people with mental health issues.
“You may lose the confidence to do things that you haven’t had to do in a long time.”
She gives examples of face-to-face work meetings or the use of narrow public transportation, situations that could have stressed or worried people even before they were concerned about the risk of infection.
“These things might have been difficult in the first place and having to go back to them after having a fairly sustained break could actually be very challenging,” she says.
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While some people have been safe in the relative comfort of their own home, others have faced difficult and troublesome situations.
From medical workers on the front lines to people trying to prevent their businesses from failing, the past few weeks can have been incredibly busy and stressful.
But a common factor that we all share is the amount of change that we have all experienced, in a very short space of time.
“It is very stressful for people,” says Dr. Steven Taylor, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
“People are trying to cope with loving being locked up, creating a cocoon of security, a haven, to make the whole experience more tolerable.”
“Ironically, that can create problems later because people may love their confinement too much and feel anxious to get out.”
Dr. Taylor is the author of The Psychology of Pandemic, a book published just a few weeks before the coronavirus emerged in China in late 2019.
“The spread and containment of contagion in the event of a pandemic is very much a psychological phenomenon,” he says.
“It is not just a mistake that happens randomly around the world. It is people’s behavior that determines whether or not a virus will spread.”
When governments come to relax the closing rules, Dr. Taylor says that good leadership will be crucial in helping people feel safe and confident in the policy change.
“To help reintegrate people into a post-pandemic world, there must be clear communication from leaders, [saying] ‘It’s okay now to hug people. It is good to go to restaurants.
“The guidelines need to be clear in people’s minds and that can help reduce uncertainty, which will reduce anxiety.”
Some people describe the emotions they feel as symptoms of agoraphobia, but this is not accurate.
“What people describe as agoraphobia is superficially similar in some ways to agoraphobia, as they are afraid to go outside,” says Dr. Taylor, “but the motivation is different.”
People with agoraphobia will generally avoid certain situations because they are afraid of having a panic attack.
“This people [anxious about life after lockdown] they are not afraid of panic attacks, they are afraid of infections, “says Dr. Taylor.
How to deal with coronavirus anxiety
Whether you are already living with an anxiety disorder or have experienced anxiety for the first time due to the pandemic, there are things you can do to help you deal with the blockage and the inevitable readjustment that has to take place once the restrictions.
“People find change quite difficult,” says Ms. Lidbetter. “It’s not about expecting you to go from 0 to 100 in a day. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find it hard to get back into the rut.”
“It was difficult for us to get into the blocking routine, so it stands to reason that it will also be difficult for us to get out of the blocking routine.”
As we begin to get out of the house more, she says we should be aware that it will be a “physiological and mental process.”
“When we go out, we have all of these stimuli hitting us and it can lead to a little sensory overload.”
She encourages people to be “gentle and kind to themselves” during this time.
“If people are really struggling with anxiety and have found this whole confinement experience and the pandemic has really increased their anxiety, then there is help.”
“People should go to their doctor and not fight alone.”
You can also advise people to talk to a trusted friend or family member about their concerns, if they can.
Dr. Taylor says the anxiety many people feel now will pass.
“The good news is that people are resistant,” he says. “I hope that most people who are anxious right now will recover in the weeks, perhaps months, after the closure restrictions have been lifted.”
“That said, some people will have persistent psychological problems.”
Akanksha has already started to think about how he will manage when the bull run in India is lifted.
“Although there are many people waiting, I don’t understand those people,” she says.
Akanksha will do some of the things that experts say are good for our mental health, like eating right and exercising regularly.
“Keep it as simple as you can,” he adds, “and don’t be overwhelmed with anything new all of a sudden. I won’t go crazy with parties every day.”
But it will continue with a hobby that began during the running of the bulls, to maintain your routine as the world around you changes once again and will give you an ongoing sense of accomplishment.
“I am learning Korean right now,” she says. “I want to see my K-dramas without subtitles.”
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