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Mental Health

How To Transition Out of Lockdown


The transition out of lockdown might not be as easy as expected

Many of us feel a sense of urgency to pick up our normal lifestyle when lockdowns are finally lifted. After all, it gives us the opportunity to see family and friends, resume sporting activities and get back to work. However, for many others experiencing anxiety and depression, transitioning out of lockdown can be a tough experience and re-adjusting can impact our mental health.

According to Dr Ashwini Padhi, a psychiatrist at South Pacific Private, lockdown has challenged and affected each of us in different ways and because of this, we should try and avoid comparing ourselves to others and what they’re doing when restrictions ease. “Many of us have gone into survival mode over the past few months. Lockdown has taken a toll on many of us – a lack of social interaction, coupled with the pressure of juggling household chores, working remotely and childcare, has left us feeling physically drained and emotionally depleted,” he says. “It’s completely normal to feel uncertain, apprehensive or anxious about what the future may or may not hold for us.”

Here are some actionable tips to help you prepare yourself for the transition out of lockdown:

Avoid comparing yourself to others 

Dr Padhi says many of us are eager to return to a more normal way of life, but the reality of transitioning from months locked in our home to a packed social calendar can be overwhelming. He says there’s no need to quickly return to your pre-lockdown social schedule. “Many still feel fearful of the virus and might be hesitant to fill up our social calendars with pre-lockdown activities. It’s okay to say ‘no’ if you need to transition out of lockdown at a slower pace,” he says. “If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s important to resist the pressure from others.”

Take your time to return to work if you can

Many of us will be navigating hybrid working conditions and might be required to return to the office a few days a week. Dr Padhi says that for many of us our homes were “a safe haven”, a place of safety and stepping out of our comfort zone can be anxiety provoking. “Prior to the pandemic many of us were already stressed with our working conditions and having to renegotiate the same challenges after a long break can instil self doubt, dent our confidence and evoke fear,” he explains. “It is okay to ease in gradually into work and pace ourselves, instead of expecting to get right on top of everything from day one.” Everyone’s circumstances are unique, and Dr Padhi suggests that those of us who feel incredibly stressed about the prospect of returning to work should discuss with our manager for reasonable adjustments and/or a period of flexible working before returning to office full time.

Maintain exercise and healthy eating habits

Dr Padhi also suggests continuing healthy eating habits and exercise. He says eating well and spending just 30 minutes walking outside a day can dramatically improve our mental health. “Eating a healthy balanced diet enhances our overall sense of wellbeing and is key to good mental health,” he explains. “Getting into the habit of eating a balanced diet can boost our body’s immune system and ability to prevent, fight and recover from infections.” Dr Padhi adds that we should try to avoid falling into the temptation of emotional eating, using food as a source of comfort. He also says that it’s important to stick to a good sleep routine  and take regular short breaks from sitting by doing just five minutes of light exercise (such as walking or stretching) as this will help improve blood circulation and muscle activity.

Avoid falling back into addictive behavioural patterns

For those of us who may be in recovery or battling addiction, Dr Padhi says we need to be careful of falling back into addictive coping mechanisms with the reopening of restaurants, pubs, casinos and other leisure centres. “It is important not to misuse alcohol and drugs or gambling as a way of dealing with fear, anxiety, and stress which the post lockdown period may herald.” He also suggests reaching out for professional help if you feel you’re at risk of relapsing.

Don’t plan too far ahead

Dr Padhi says although we all might be starting to think about life after lockdown, we shouldn’t plan too far ahead. “The key is to keep things simple and not take on too much,” he explains. “Enjoy each day for the experiences it brings and focus on the immediate instead of the future.” He says having a structured routine, pacing ourselves to achieve small wins during the day, being kind to ourselves and maintaining a balance between work and personal time are essential to overcome the anxiety of returning back from lockdown.

Stay connected to family and friends and share your feelings

Dr Padhi says it’s essential for us to be mindful of our emotions and not to suppress feelings of anxiety, low mood or stress when we experience them. “Sharing the way you feel with others can be calming and enable us to let go of negative emotions.” It is equally important to stay connected with family and talk to people we trust, he adds.

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