Work from home if you can. Be ‘sensible’ about socialising. We have been here before.
As the Omicron variant of Covid ravages the country and leaves thousands unwell and isolating, we have found ourselves once again in a state of lockdown limbo.
There are few formal restrictions – beyond advice to stop going into the office – and we are not in an actual lockdown yet, but at the same time we are being urged to be careful and limit who we are seeing and what we are doing.
It’s a sort of lockdown of individual responsibility – and the result of that is confusion, uncertainty and a lot of anxiety.
It’s also incredibly damaging for the hospitality industry as they can’t get much in the way of support from the government while we’re not technically locked down.
The problem with leaving decisions about social contact and what is ‘sensible’ up to individuals, is that everyone will interpret things slightly differently. One group of friends may still be up for meeting at the pub and having Christmas dinner as planned, while another might be hibernating until the new year.
On top of all this, there are near-constant rumours about looming harsher restrictions, meaning some people are trying to get all their socialising in while they can, as they predict a bleak new year. It really is leaving us in a state of limbo.
Navigating these differing dynamics, plus the growing threat of jeopardising Christmas plans or putting your loved ones at risk, is incredibly stressful. But if you are feeling exceptionally worried right now, know that you are not alone.
‘The stress involved with uncertain, unclear, and ever-changing restrictions and guidelines has amped up with the recent implementation of “Plan B”,’ says Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research and total wellbeing at LifeWorks.
‘The specific stressors vary, from health concerns to lack of clarity surrounding attending work and social events. Another overwhelmingly common anxiety at this time of year concerns Christmas. With the UK potentially facing our second COVID restricted Christmas, “lockdown limbo” and uncertainty as to how the government policy may change fosters increased anxieties for all.’
For Paula, she believes the sudden return to working from home may have had a jarring and whiplash-like effect for many people.
‘Many employees will have got used to returning to the office and their normal sense of routine after many months of being deprived of it,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Like many other aspects of lockdown, the continual changing of policy can be detrimental to mental health and people may be feeling the strain.
‘Understanding this is a hugely important aspect in assisting and supporting them with any of these challenges.
‘In our recent Mental Health Index, we found that younger Britons were particularly affected by working from home directives, with 35% of our respondents under 40 saying they were experiencing concerns around their mental health.
‘Younger workers need more support than can often be provided at home to do their work, and many more are reporting deteriorating workplace relationships which can impact mental health, feelings of isolation and productivity.’
But our working situations are just one element of this strange limbo. We are also struggling to balance the benefits of seeing friends and loved ones with the increased risk of catching Covid and having to isolate, or cancelling plans which can feel awkward.
‘Leaving the house right now feels like a particularly scary game of dodgeball,’ says Hannah, a 27-year-old audio producer who lives in London.
‘I feel like half of my friends have the virus – some of them are really quite unwell – and the other half are trying to do all their festive plans as normal.
‘I’ve definitely been stuck in the middle. I don’t want another Christmas miserable in my flat, not seeing anyone, because last year was so horrendous. But at the same time I don’t want to get sick, and I don’t want to get anyone in my family sick over Christmas. I really do wish there was clearer guidance on what we should be doing, and what is and isn’t OK right now.’
Stuart Duff, head of development at Pearn Kandola, says it is understandable that this situation is causing increased anxiety – because it’s all to do with a lack of control.
‘Most of us live with, and enjoy, everyday pressures,’ Stuart tells Metro.co.uk.
‘It is pressure that keeps us busy and motivated. But the healthy feeling of being under pressure very easily tips into a very negative and tiring feeling of being stressed.
‘What causes pressure to become stress? There are two very important factors. The first is a sense of control. If we feel that we do not have control over a situation and that something is being done to us that we can’t change, then we will feel stress.’
Stuart says the second factor is uncertainty. We all like to have clarity about the future to help us to make decisions and feel in control of our actions, if we are unsure or the situation is ambiguous, then we will feel stress.
‘Being in lockdown limbo is the worst of all worlds because we are facing restrictions again – so we feel a lack of control over our own situation – and we have no idea when the regulations will end or how it will end, so we experience a lack of clarity and certainty,’ Stuart explains.
‘Also, if some are cancelling their Christmas parties while others are getting together and celebrating, this adds to the lack of clarity and feeling of uncertainty about what is the right and best decision to make – leading to increased stress and frustration all round.’
How to manage lockdown limbo anxiety
It’s no surprise that anxiety levels around Covid are on the rise again.
A recent study found that 63% of people have experienced ‘significant stress’ as a result of the uncertainty which the pandemic has introduced into our lives.
This can manifest as poor sleep, vulnerability to illness, low mood, irritability, panic attacks, and myriad of other unpleasant anxiety symptoms.
If you’re worried about your mental health and feel like it is getting worse, speak to your GP in the first instance. But here are some simple techniques you can also try to help maintain a balanced mood and mitigate some of that stress:
Focus on your breath
Chatty Dobson, Yoga Teacher & Owner of FLEX Chelsea, explains that there are many simple ways to calm your mind and body utilising the breath:
‘For anxiety, sitting down and breathing is the easiest thing to do. If you count your breaths, your inhale is your Yang (active) and exhale is your Yin (calming), so if you can make your exhale longer than your inhale then you will calm down more.
‘You can do this in your bed, against a wall, in a chair, as upright as you can and hands in your lap or one on the heart one on the belly, whatever is comfortable.
‘Inhale to slow count of 4, exhale for slow count of 6, carry it on for as long as possible.
‘Following a simple sun salutation is also good for anxiety as it becomes that simple moving meditation, so once you’ve done it two or three times you sort of forget what you were doing. If you’re concentrating on the breath and the movements, you get into the rhythm and the flow so it can take your mind off other things.’
Breathing in fresh air and enjoying nature is a simple way to relieve stress and anxiety.
Going for a walk is the perfect way to do this, while also keeping your activity levels up, which is especially important if you’re working from home.
You can also use this time to have a socially distanced catch-up with friends, if you’re avoiding enclosed spaces.
Move your body
Exercise is one of the best natural stress-relievers; just recently, the NHS has started prescribing boxing classes as a treatment for mental health issues such as depression.
A great way to get out of your head when exercising is by attending a fitness class. If you’re avoiding groups of people, instead try an at-home workout to get your body moving.
Get a good night’s sleep
As we all know, sleep is a helpful tool in managing stress, and waking up well-rested is the best way to set up your day. However, stress and anxiety can make getting a good night’s sleep seem an impossible task.
Studies have shown that Covid stress is associated with both sleep reduction and poorer sleep quality.
It’s important to invest in your sleep health – working on maintaining a good bedtime routine, going to sleep at the same time, and avoiding triggers before bed – such as caffeine, alcohol and looking at your phone.
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