Coming out, or staying in? How to navigate ‘post-lockdown’ relations

Professional Help’s Head of Counselling Joanna Williams shares…

It started even before so-called ‘super Saturday’. Invitations to meet up, sometimes clearly signposted as ‘socially distanced walks’ but sometimes more vague: a gathering in someone’s garden, or was that their house? OK the garden, but what if it rained? The invites didn’t mention how many other people would be coming. If it was far to travel, there was the blithe instruction that I could ‘stay in a hotel’. That would be permitted from 4th July, so it was perfectly reasonable, right?

Yet these invites, well-intentioned and appearing to be mostly within government guidelines, made me feel very uneasy indeed.

I felt confused: were we really coming out of lockdown, then? It seemed like the virus was still pretty virulent, still just as dangerous (granted I work mostly in bereavement care so perhaps I’m especially sensitive to this).

I felt anxious: would people who I felt were quite cavalier about the risks overstep my boundaries, do things I wasn’t comfortable with, and would I have to argue with them? (I don’t like arguments).

I felt embarrassed: perhaps I was over-reacting, and everybody else was right to be so relaxed. How would I sidestep hugs and handshakes without feeling like a party pooper? I’d tried this mid-March, pre-lockdown, and it didn’t land well with some people to be presented with an elbow bump when they were after a kiss on the cheek.

I began to think I would be safer and happier just staying in and saying no.

And that made me feel even more uneasy!

If any of the above sounds familiar, first of all clearly you are not on your own. Here are some tips for navigating the coming weeks and months:

Prioritise. Lockdown has hopefully taught us a few lessons, one of which might be that our time and our company are precious commodities. It’s ok to spend them carefully! If you’re edging towards a bit more social time, who do you most want to spend it with? Start there. They’re probably the very people who won’t make you feel anxious. Unless you’re actively doing something illegal or dangerous, nobody has the right to judge you, shame you or make you feel bad. As the old saying goes: those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.

It works both ways, though. Resist judgment of those who are handling things differently to you. It’s a huge waste of energy.

If you’re worried about being caught off-guard by impromptu invites, it’s ok to practise and prepare. Be clear on what feels ok for you at the moment and what doesn’t, and be ready with a phrase or two that explains it clearly and calmly. Everyone’s circumstances are different and yours are your business alone. You don’t have to explain yourself any more fully than you want to, and a simple ‘I don’t really feel ready to do that yet, but I’d love to do [insert alternative activity of your choice] if you fancy it?’

Bearing all the above in mind, however, if you are prone to anxiety, do look carefully at what’s driving your reticence to leave full lockdown. Many people have found themselves feeling not only safer over the last few months, but also less pressured, more relaxed, and able to enjoy a slower and simpler pace of life. These can all be great developments, as long as they aren’t interfering with day-to-day functioning or leading to extreme isolation.

There are still ways to reach out, and for the vast majority of people there are very safe ways to go out; find your way, and at whatever pace suits you, give it a try.

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