On April 12th 2021 everything changed. Or, as one friend said to me via voicenote a few days afterwards: “We were all on a level playing field and well… now we’re not.”
Two weeks ago lockdown restrictions were eased in England and suddenly life felt a bit more recognisable to the one we used to exist in before the pandemic hit. We could go out for drinks with mates (if we stayed outside) and we could shop in actual real-life shops that weren’t just the supermarket. We could get haircuts and manicures and our brows done and work-out at the gym. We could visit zoos, drive further than the local park to meet up with loved ones, and heck, if we wanted to we could even book a staycation.
We had plenty of notice that things were going to change, too. Boris Johnson announced the details for his roadmap out of lockdown back in February – starting with schools going back and the ability to sit outside with another household from March.
So why then, did April’s shift in the day-to-day options available to us feel, well… almost overwhelming? And why, did suddenly seeing everyone else living what can only be described as ‘their best lives’ over on social media suddenly fill us with an unexpected huge crashing wave of FOMO (or, Fear Of Missing Out)?
Dr Lafina Diamandis, who is a GP, lifestyle doctor & founder of Deia Health, has some of the answers. She says: “Return anxiety is real. From resistance around returning to a fast-paced life to the social pressures felt around appearance (particularly by women), many people are actually dreading the return to normality. Mild social anxiety is also emerging as we face re-connecting with friends, family and colleagues again. It’s important to remember that this is a completely normal reaction to living under restricted social conditions for over a year and that just as it took some time to adapt to lockdown conditions, we will need some time to adapt back to a normal way of life.”
“The pandemic has caused extremely high levels of fear, stress and anxiety around health, whether that be our own health or that of our loved ones. This has been further exacerbated by the loneliness and social isolation experienced during lockdown. However, it’s not just health anxiety that’s on the rise. People with generalised anxiety and depression are presenting to their GP, perhaps triggered by the experience of the pandemic or perhaps brought to light due to us having more time for introspection.”
A lot has shifted over the course of the past year – even for those of us who have been lucky enough to stay safe at home. Jobs have been lost, incomes reduced, relationships have broken down, and that’s without the sheer weight of just existing day-to-day in an unrecognisable society that feels completely out of our control.
One group really feeling the strains of 2021 living right now? Young professionals. Dr Diamandis says: “I’m seeing a lot more work-related stress, anxiety and burnout in young professionals dealing with an increasingly high workload, mixed with worry about job loss and expectations from employers to work overtime. The blurring of boundaries between work and home life when working from home has also been an important factor.”
So how do we help ourselves right now? How do we keep ourselves mentally afloat during such an unstable time? And how do we stop feeling so triggered by watching how everyone else is handling the easing of restrictions via social media?
Dr Diamandis suggests a three-step approach to tackling our Fear Of Missing Out. She says: “Start with gratitude exercises. They’re scientifically proven to improve mood and feelings of wellbeing. By focusing on what we have rather than what we don’t have, we shift our mindset from one of lack to one of abundance. Something as simple as as writing down three things you are grateful for, or telling your friends, colleagues or family members what you appreciate about them can be an instant mood booster for both yourself and the people around you.”
Second step? Limit social media use. Dr Diamandis says: “We know that social media is a huge driver of FOMO as well as stress and anxiety. Asking yourself what your goal is and setting a time limit before jumping on socials can be a great way to use social media more productively (and prevent you from falling down that three-hour scroll hole!). Remembering that what people post is a highly filtered, curated version of their lives also helps. We never know what someone is dealing with behind the screen.”
And lastly, try making your own plans – whatever it might be that you’re comfortable with right now. Dr Diamandis says: “Grab your calendar and stick in a few dates in the diary whether it’s a catch-up on the phone, a walk with a friend or a group outing. Your diary does not have to be bursting with activities and don’t forget that others may need your support too.”
One of the things I’m struggling with most right now, is that every day seems to bring a new scattering of unexpected emotions. One moment I’ll find myself welling up in the car because there’s a happy song on and the sun is shining and it feels like maybe, just maybe, we’re tip-toeing out of the pandemic, and then the next I’ll be high on supermarket anxiety. Just remember,it has been one heck of a year. And however you’re feeling, you’re absolutely not the only one.
Dr Diamandis adds: “As we come out of lockdown it’s expected that we will experience a range of feelings around socializing, going back to work, and more. Don’t judge yourself if you’re not feeling ready to do things at the same pace as everyone else. Sharing your feelings with a friend is a great stress reliever and important way to stay supported when dealing with challenging emotions.”
Record your voicenotes, send your memes in Whatsapp chats and keep connecting, reaching out and checking in. We got this… I think.
For more help, Dr Lafina Diamandis is running a Stress & Anxiety Masterclass, 7pm, 4th May 2021 (FREE to join).
Or for more support if you’re worried about the state of your mental health (or that of a loved one), head to Mind or the NHS website – they now have a mood assessment online for anxiety and depression.