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Life after lockdown: A How To

Handling re-emergence anxiety, going back to the office, remembering how to flirt again. Kate Demolder asks the experts for their tips on getting through life after lockdown

How to deal with re-emergence anxiety 

In the mid-1980s, a futurist named Faith Popcorn became famous for inventing the idea of “cocooning.” “We are trying to control everything,” she told the New York Times reporter William Geist in 1986, “to protect ourselves from a harsh and unpredictable world.”

[restrict] The signs of cocooning were everywhere, in oversized Aran sweaters, to Betty Crocker easy cake mixes, to the uptick in gun ownership. As people emerged from the drug-addled, sexually revolutionised 1970s and early ’80s, cocooning captured a cultural retrenchment and a desire for everything to feel homier and safer.

Fast forward four decades and the desire for comfort in ambiguity still manifests, albeit in different ways. Following a decade rife with financial, political and cultural precarity, grasping at ways to feel safe when potent bacteria fill the air isn’t all that surprising. Sheet-masks, guard dogs and Deliveroo continue the legacy that went before them.

For those currently feeling the pinch of the omnipresence of fright, it’s worth knowing that you’re one of the many and not one of the few – and there are a huge amount of ways you can feel better almost immediately.

“Start slowly,” Michael Ledden MIACP, MIAHIP, MICP, founder of Anxiety Ireland suggests.

“If one has a predisposition to anxiety already, a gap in going out can make it so much harder to reemerge. With COVID-19, there are new anxious thoughts regarding health and safety to consider, but also a socially anxious side to it too. I’d say to people to really monitor their thinking and anticipation of going out.

“Are there any new thoughts that they haven’t had before? These sorts of thoughts – more intense ideas, catastrophising how they look, whether they’ll get stuck etc – can be red flags. Noticing those thoughts and trying not to let them run in anticipation will be hugely helpful.”

Michael’s tips for getting back out into a world we’ve been told not to enter for months involve some easily recreated techniques that can and will help time and again:

1. Try to create more positive thoughts

“This sounds easier said than done, but our brains have been flooded by anxious thoughts and creating good ones to take their place will help a lot. The collective trauma we’ve gone through by way of COVID-19 will mean that our minds are in ‘worst case scenario’ mode all of the time. Every part of our brain is going to be telling us to stop – but be aware that this is part of the process, notice the thoughts, and work through them.”

2.‘Would I tell a friend this?’
“At times when your mind feels like it’s against you, it’s good to notice how you’re thinking and consider what you might say to a friend who is experiencing the same thing. Would you tell them to go home and hide? Would you tell them to get out of the house? We’re often kinder to our friends than we are ourselves – so treat yourself the way you would want to treat others going through something.”

3. Trial runs
“Sometimes, having a little trial run can work. Think about an action you’re keen to do – such as going on a walk – and how you might tackle something unexpected or anxiety-inducing if it comes up. Feeling prepared is key for right now – so test runs are hugely beneficial.”

4. Slow down
“Anxiety loves us not taking any risks, and that’s been taken out of our hands with the pandemic. So, being gradual with how we push ourselves in terms of how we get out there is hugely important.”

5. Re-evaluate what you need
“Consider what parts of your old life do you want to pick up again. Maybe that’s big parties and going to pubs, but maybe you’re actually happier without them. If you need to feel drunk to be enjoying yourself on nights out, then maybe there’s a deeper issue there that needs addressing? Make the lifestyle choices you want to make, not the choices of others.”

6. Breathe
“I always recommend to clients that they tune into their breathing before doing something they deem scary. People who are anxious tend to hold their breath a lot as their fight-or-flight is kicking in – so breathe deeply into your tummy and take things at the pace you’re comfortable with. Keep the body as calm as you can, things get easier the more you do them, so always remember that things can only get better from here.

“Other grounding techniques can also help here, such as noticing the items that are around you. This can distract your mind in a really helpful way while it waits for your body to catch up.”


How to engage with the office after a year WFH

A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that some 49% of adults reported feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends. More telling still, a separate 48% of those who have received any of the COVID-19 vaccines report feeling the same way.

Understandable, given that we’ve now lived through more than a year in which the dangers of touching, breathing and being indoors with someone else have become all the more apparent.

Furthermore, those living with pre-existing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety have grown accustomed to a certain way of living – only for things to change totally, removing them from isolation. As governments gradually relax work-at-home restrictions, organisations are planning and starting to welcome their employees back to water fountains and work canteens. But how are we expected to return to the weekdays of yore, and can a return to the office post-global pandemic be managed without a hitch?

“In the sectors, I’m working with there is no dividing line where you’re 100% back in for most people,” Kate Gaffey of Workplace Wellness tells me.

“The transition is quite gradual – a good thing, in my opinion – and it’s allowing yourself a certain spaciousness that can be helpful.

“We’re due to once again access important boundaries where there’s a clear delineation between work and home – but to have that healthy split of work time and home time, we have to switch on and switch off whichever ways we can.”

Kate shared several tips on how one can return to the office without compromising the safety you’ve felt staying at home:

1. Knowing what you need in advance
“It all really starts with ourselves; going into it with a conscious awareness is hugely important. Whether you’re working from home or in an office, access whatever you personally need to navigate that – whether that’s a grounding ritual, a comprehensive understanding of safety in the workplace, or a renegotiation with someone senior to get what you need.”

2. Know your boundaries
“Take time to distance, know yourself and manage transitions. From my experience surrounding wellness, most people have problems around moving through the world unconsciously – so knowing what boundaries suit you are of utmost importance.”

3. Take your time
“Go slowly, tenderly and gently into it. Notice when you’re feeling unsafe and give your body whatever medicine it needs at that time. Don’t push that feeling away, feed it what it needs, whether it’s a walk or a phone call or a few moments alone.”

4. Recognise that this is a big deal
“You don’t have to snap back to where you were before. There’s a lingering after effect from what we’ve been through, and we need to give our bodies and minds time to readjust. Do some thinking about what you want, or need, to feel safe.”

5. Know when to recharge
“Mentally, you’ll be exhausted after physically seeing a load of faces for the first time in months, so listen to your body and mind – they will always let you know if something isn’t quite right. If you feel tired, or overstimulated, please try and take the downtime required.”

6. Continue to practice self-care
“A huge number of us have been introduced to baths, books, walking or whatever we need to readjust our minds after a stressful time. Take what you have learned during lockdown and continue to feed yourself the things you need to switch off.”

7. If you need to, talk to a professional
“The pandemic has made getting help all the easier, with counsellors and text-in services available from your own home. If you need them, use them. And don’t beat yourself up for doing so.”

How to flirt

Few things eradicate a flirty repertoire as effectively as 12+ months of sitting alone. As a 27-year-old woman, most conversations I’ve had with peers of late (socially distantly, of course…) have been either punctured by our diminished small talk capabilities or peppered with fear over not knowing what people talk about anymore that isn’t Netflix.

Remember the days when coquettishness poured out of you? It’s fullness saturating your words to the point of bursting? Let me tell you, hope is not lost. What goes down, must come up (ahem) once more. Although life has thrown daters a curveball by way of inducing puberty-adjacent awkwardness via lockdowns, there are ways around replenishing one’s confidence, post-dating sabbatical.

“I’ve heard it all regarding dating during, mid and after the pandemic,” says one of Ireland’s top dating coaches, Sharon Kenny.

“What’s happened all the way throughout is that, when people feel up to dating finally, they find that as soon as they’ve made progress it’s one step forward and two steps back because of subsequent lockdowns and further restrictions.

“Although, in a way, it has been a great thing for less experienced daters as the pandemic of loneliness has pushed people out of their comfort zone and gotten them to reach out,” she says.

In terms of preparing yourself for other people once more, Kenny states that nothing is more important than self-confidence, explaining that you gain what you crave at that time – meaning that if you’re needy, you will find someone only to fill that need rather than someone wholly compatible.

“It’s so important because when people are coming from a place of fulfilment, they find someone to meet them on that level,” she says. “You get out what you put in, so says the law of attraction anyway.”

From working with people within the age ranges of 25 – 85, Sharon has picked up some tips along the way to ensure a healthy return to dating post-pandemic:

1. Completely believe in yourself
“It’s a cliché, but it’s true. This is a meeting, first and foremost. You will meet hundreds of people in your life and this is just another. Also, how lucky are they to be meeting you.”

2. Know what you want
“This is huge. Know exactly what you’re looking for – whether that’s a fling or a relationship or whatever. People respect honesty, and being upfront about what you want is of utmost importance. Don’t worry about scaring someone by being upfront – you may want a relationship, but that doesn’t mean you want a relationship with whoever’s sitting across from you.”

3. Notice the red flags
“A lot of my clients have been victims of scamming of late, so please do be careful. Look through their photos, details and do your research. Let go of anyone you think is too good to be true. Your gut is usually completely right – just listen to it.”

4. Remember, this is one of the best interviews of your life
“Dress yourself up, put on heels, or whatever you want to feel and look good. Even if your first date is a walk – effort needs to be made here, not so much for you, but so the other person feels appreciated. First impressions are hugely important, so put your best foot forward.”

5. Let down your barriers
“Vulnerability attracts people together, not bravado or overt confidence. What makes someone feel special is to be able to be there, and provide whatever love language they can. It might also be an idea to look up what your love language is, to show what you can provide to someone else when they feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable.”

6. Don’t sweat the small stuff
“Perpetual ‘what ifs?’ shouldn’t keep you up at night. They are a huge – and largely pointless – waste of your mental and physical energy. Forgive yourself for both picking apart how you’ve spent your time and also overthinking it – worry is suffering twice, after all.”

7. Just get out there!
“I know they say a law of attraction means you should put it all on the table but keep expectations low and see what happens. If this person doesn’t work out, you’re just one step closer to the love of your life. So many of my clients even get excited by the bad dates because it just means you’re one step closer to finding a good one. Best of luck.”