Kirsty Lilley, mental health expert, CABA
Chances are, you’ve probably lost track of how many times you’ve said that you can’t wait for lockdown to be over. For things to just get back to normal.
Well, as the restrictions begin to gradually ease, we seem to be getting closer to those wishes becoming a reality. But as exciting as it seems, for some, the prospect of venturing back into the world also comes with a great deal of anxiety.
I’ve heard friends saying that, overnight, their diaries have completely filled up. Others who have already begun socialising say that the first few events they’ve attended have left them exhausted. Some are even saying that just the thought of meeting with friends is proving overwhelming.
So, how can we counteract this? How can we go about rebuilding the confidence that we seem to have lost, and find ways to enjoy the easing of lockdown?
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It might sound strange to talk about confidence being something that we can practice. But confidence is like a muscle, and over the past year, we’ve had fewer opportunities to use it. We’ve become used to a quieter way of life with less stimulation. Opportunities to spend time with each other have been few and far between, and as a result, some of our relational skills have faded.
To put it simply, we’ve lost some of the confidence that helps us to navigate our social and relational world – both the joys and the difficulties – and the easing of lockdown may provide something of a sensory overload. To find that you’re struggling with seemingly everyday things might even come as a surprise, and the fact that it’s unexpected probably makes it even more daunting. Take your time and look for ways to practice rebuilding your confidence. Start small and build your way up.
It’s understandable that we might want to jump back into our social lives, but it shouldn’t be done to the detriment to our health. We need to build it up steadily.
I’ll often speak about how we all have a threat centre, a drive centre and a sooth centre, and how we want these regulatory centres to be in balance. Our threat centre protects us from danger, while drive gets us out and about. The problem here is that lots of things which we would assume originate from drive actually come from threat. We do something because we’re worried about being seen as lazy or getting in trouble, rather than because we’re genuinely motivated.
If you’re filling up your social calendar to the point that it’s feeling overwhelming, it might be the result of this sort of imbalance. Ask yourself; are you committing to so much because it brings you joy or because you’re worried about missing out? Perhaps you’re seeing friends heading out on social media and feel as though you should be doing the same?
Yes, book in some social engagements. But do it steadily and set aside some time to bring your sooth centre into balance. Give yourself some downtime. Perhaps even plan to keep the odd weekend free, specifically for the purpose of enjoying some rest and relaxation.
Find ways to control the situation
Human beings tend to feel safe when the stresses we’re facing are predictable. If you’re feeling nervous about lockdown ending, focus on the things you can influence and control. For instance, decide beforehand that if you arrive at a social event and find it uncomfortable, you’ll give yourself permission to leave.
Another good way to build confidence and take control of a situation is to prepare for it. If you’re going back to the office for the first time, and feeling nervous about the prospect of a whole day’s worth of socialising with your colleagues again, can you think up a few conversation-starters beforehand? Even rehearsing a situation in your imagination can be helpful. The imagination is designed to prime us for action. We can use to it to prepare for a situation and build up to it gradually.
Celebrate your achievements
You might feel foolish for being intimidated by a simple trip to a pub garden. Or even to a friend’s house. And when you push through those fears, you might not feel as though you’ve done something that deserves to be celebrated. But the simple fact is that in the throes of a global pandemic, challenging yourself to do something daunting – however seemingly small – is an achievement. And it’s important to celebrate our achievements, because when we do, we can find the strength to push ourselves further.
As lockdown eases, one the most important things we can do is reflect on what we’ve been through. We should take some time to identify what strengths we’ve developed, as well as what habits we want to keep when things do, genuinely, return to normal. We tend to always be moving forward, but we sometimes need to just take stock. Because while we might not always feel resilient, the truth is that we are.
Don’t lose the essence of what’s happened this past year. Find things to feel proud of. Because ultimately, confidence is built by acknowledging how difficult things were, identifying what we did to overcome it and then building on those foundations.
For more help and advice, visit: https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides