On June 21, there will be two camps of people in the UK – those ready to party and those safely sealed away in their bedroom, already reminiscing about the days of lockdown.
After exactly a year of staying at home, we have acclimatised to socialising digitally, in short bursts of time.
Remember in Before Times you could head to the gym after work and then get dressed for dinner and a night out?
The pandemic has changed this. Our social batteries have run out of charge.
Gone is our energy and stamina. Most of us will be exhausted by 9pm, and that won’t magically change just because restrictions have lifted and bars are back open.
But that’s totally normal. It’s been a long time since we had to perform our social persona for extended periods.
Psychologist Dr. Jaspreet Tehara explains: ‘There is a collective and personal sense of anxiety that things are going to ramp up again after a year of small hiatuses and breaks forged out of our control, which have allowed many to take stock of their own lives and wellbeing.
‘We’re coming to the end of the “major,” threat in relation to Covid-19 itself, which could still take more time itself, but there are anxieties over going back to work/social lives, losing the things we’ve evolved to change with over the last year and a wider sense of needing to adapt again.’
Though adapting is inevitable – after all, we did quickly become accustomed to staying indoors and all other parts of pandemic life – many people are wary of going back to their old selves.
The pandemic has suited homebodies (Picture: Getty)
For 23-year-old Hafsa*, the excitement of her friends and family to restart their social lives has left her petrified.
‘At the minute my parents are planning a trip abroad and I keep postponing getting back to them with a date,’ she explains. ‘They don’t know it’s because of all of this.
‘Just the thought of being in a room full of people is daunting, it’s like going back to school.
‘What do I talk about, how do I dress, how do I speak? Everyone is going to want to meet up and catch up, and honestly, as much as I adore my friends and relatives, it all just seems like a lot.
‘As an introvert, lockdown has been great for my battery. I’ve enjoyed working from home and spending time with my family. The first few months of being back out are going to be tough. I’ll either recharge by seeing everyone or I’ll be super anxious.’
One of Hafsa’s main issues with going back out is body image.
‘As someone who has always been self-conscious and someone who has always had a rocky relationship with body image and food, the idea of going back has been tough,’ she explains. ‘I’d love to say that I don’t take care of my weight, but I’d be lying. I still feel like there’s pressure to look a certain way.’
Though Hafsa has received her first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, she is also cautious of catching the virus or passing it on. Even when things resume, she imagines the uneasiness will stay with her.
So, she will deal with it in baby steps. She adds: ‘I’ll probably put things off for as long as possible, but then again I’d like to be more upfront about my plans. If this year has taught me anything is that we’re all going through our own battles, we just all deal with them differently.’
Everyone is going to want to meet up and catch up, and honestly, as much as I adore my friends and relatives, it all just seems like a lot
Similarly, 16-year-old Tanya started college last year, but due to multiple lockdowns and staggered teaching, has barely met any of her classmates.
Prior to this, she would see her friends all the time but now when she tries to socialise on one of the three days she’s back in her sixth-form, it’s difficult.
She tells us: ‘I can’t even see people’s faces when I’m in school – you can’t read body language and expressions to see if you should approach them. It’s intimidating talking to someone when you don’t even know what they look like.
‘I used to consider myself an extrovert before – I used to do five lessons a day, five days a week, and participate in lessons, after-school sessions then go out with my friends. At the end of the day I wasn’t worn out.
‘But now, even just going to school three days for one lesson is tiring. I feel sluggish at the end of online lessons too.’
Naomi Harlow, who works in a school and therefore has resumed working as normal, also has reservations about her social endurance.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘As I’ve continued to work in a school setting throughout the pandemic, this anxiety has perhaps been less pronounced, but I’m still not sure I feel “ready” about a return to normal because we have all been changed by this shared experience, if only temporarily.
‘As the vaccine begins to roll out, and talk turns to the end of lockdown and a return to some kind of normal, there is definitely a high level of anxiety. We have all spent so long finding ways to adapt and manage the rapid and unnatural changes to the way we live our lives, that many people are feeling frightened of giving those up, even if that’s all they’ve been thinking about for the last year.
‘Suddenly the demands on us are changing again, and many people feel unprepared for it. For some, this is due to anxiety around the virus itself, for others it is the fear of over stimulation arising from visits, events, crowds, and the expectation of sociability which has been absent for the last 12 months.
‘Our expectations and ambitions and priorities have shifted and changed, and some people may not be in a rush to return to how they lived before this experience.’
Earlier on in the pandemic, Naomi started a Facebook page entitled Lockdown Mental Health Support Group to allow people to connect.
Members of the group are concerned about resuming normality but are relying on one another for support, advice and eventual meet-ups.
Whether it’s joining a Facebook group for support, or taking it easy, there are other things you can do to recharge your unused social battery.
Heather Garbutt, psychotherapist and director of The Counselling & Psychotherapy Centre in Swindon says communication is key.
‘Take it slowly and don’t immediately organise a large get together,’ she advises. ‘Go for a walk with somebody for no more than half an hour and gently get used to being with people again. It may actually be a shock to our system which has been shut down to some degree to cope with absence.
‘We may have that longing to be with others, but that doesn’t mean we are free from anxiety. It would be good to start off with a conversation about what it’s going to be like when you are all together again.’
She says some topics to discuss and reduce your anxiety might be: What are you looking forward to doing with loved onesr? What makes you anxious about being together? What has been good for you about your friendship before the lockdowns and what’s been good for you during them? What do you really want to do together?
‘Acknowledge that many of you may feel a bit awkward after being physically apart for so long. It’s a bit like learning to walk again after you‘ve broken a limb. It may all be off-balance to begin with but you will find a new steadiness with practice.’
Whatever happens post-pandemic, your loved ones can’t judge if you want to take it easy and not delve into the festivities immediately.
We are recovering from a post-pandemic stress disorder, after all.
The Year That Changed Us
The past year has been… weird, to put it lightly.
12 months of living with Covid-19, from the restrictions on our old way of life, to going in and out of lockdown, to being confronted by the reality of death and illness, is bound to have radically changed us.
We may never go back to the way we were before.
Our series, The Year That Changed Us explores all the ways we’ve been impacted by the pandemic and how these effects will stick with us long-term, from our friendships to the nation’s mental health.
You can read the full series here.
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