How to overcome anxiety about going back to 'normal' as restrictions ease

A pre-pandemic crowded pub Credit: PA

We've spent months longing to queue up at a bar, lounge on a friend's sofa, or shout to make ourselves heard over the sound of live music.

We've all had to change during the Coronavirus pandemic, we haven’t had a choice. It's been the law to stay at home, spend more time alone, and stay apart from loved ones.

But now this is once again within our grasp, as the roadmap out of lockdown begins, how easy will it be to relearn old habits? Will people get anxious being part of a big group? Will they get nervous about making small talk?

What if you want to go back to your old self, but that old life now feels new and a bit intimidating? Maybe if feels like tempting fate to make plans, in case that freedom is taken away again.

Fortunately, there are ways to cope with change - we've spoken to therapists, Clem and Margaret Turner.

Personality change

The longer we practice a habit, the more that habit becomes a part of your behaviour.

A lot of people are currently suffering from social anxiety. That's because they used to enjoy meeting people and having fun, but now they have got into the habit of not socialising, so see their old behaviour as something new and unfamiliar. Being reclusive and insular is now part of their behaviour.

What if they catch the virus? What if they spread it to others? What if their friends will see them differently, because they feel different?

Some children too have become frightened to go out, after being told for months that there is a virus out there that wants to harm them.

Friends meet up in pre-pandemic times Credit: PA

Change takes time

We have been forced to forge new habits, which may now take some time to let go of. We will have to re-learn old ways.

Don't expect your habits to change overnight. Habits are wired into our brains through repetition, and as time passes the habit becomes an unconscious behaviour and we do it less consciously.

Change and our brains

Neuroscientists have found that there is a part of our brain which is crucial for habit forming.

This is called the basal ganlia and it's at the base of the forebrain and top of the midbrain.

It used to be thought that it took 21 - 28 days to form a habit, but current research shows that most of us need about three months to change, and some people need longer.

It really depends on how committed we are to change the habit.

Credit: PA

How to ease back in

When we commit to make a change we need to start slowly and simply, and we need to stay consistent.

By committing to change you make a commitment to yourself – you can think of the benefits of change, and look forward to making some positive changes in your life.

It might help to write down your new desired habit, because writing things down makes your ideas clearer and gives you focus on the end result.

Give yourself time to change, and don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go according to plan. Set-backs are all part of changing habits.

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