9 tips to find your own freedom as restrictions lift

Freedom Day has given the nation mixed feelings amid the ongoing uncertainty. Gosia Bowling, Prevention Lead of Emotional Wellbeing provides 9 tips to find a way through any fear around restrictions lifting – such as continuing to wear a mask indoors if it makes you feel more comfortable.

19 July heralded a new phase of the pandemic. A definitive – and according to the UK government – irreversible line in the sand. A date to mark the total end of restrictions in the UK and the return to ‘freedom’. With it, the potential promise of life finally unmasked and unlocked.

The long-standing government ‘work from home’ order is officially being scrapped, as social distancing rules and limits on social contact are removed across the country. All remaining businesses that have been closed during the pandemic, such as nightclubs, will be allowed to reopen, and the legal requirement to wear face masks in shops and on public transport is being lifted.

The date dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ is not however giving everyone the joyous feelings of liberation we usually associate with freedom. The feeling you have of putting your ‘out of office’ on and heading off on holiday. A feeling of being carefree, lighter, and essentially without worry.

Mixed feelings

While some people report feeling excited and raring to go, many of us remain hopeful yet ambivalent, anxious and confused. A recent Ipsos Mori poll showed that there’s widespread support for the continuation of many regulations after 19 July:

  • 70% would like to see face masks continue to be compulsory in shops and on public transport after 19 July
  • 66% support social distancing being compulsory in theatres, pubs and sports grounds
  • 61% want people to keep checking into pubs and restaurants with an NHS contact tracing app.

Ongoing uncertainty

News that the new Delta variant is putting pressure on NHS services, and talks of another ‘exit wave’ have triggered yet another period of uncertainty. All of this comes at a time when many of us are already feeling ‘pandemic fatigue’ at the same time as navigating new routines as workplaces re-open and organisations experiment with hybrid working.

9 tips to find your own freedom as restrictions lift

  1. Identify your priorities and values
    More than three-quarters of people in the UK say the coronavirus pandemic has made them re-evaluate the most important aspects of their lives, like work, relationships and living place. Strong values can act as an internal compass to guide us throughout life, especially in times of uncertainty. Ask yourself what’s most important to you in life. What gives your life meaning and purpose? Once you’ve identified your values, set goals that are aligned with your priorities. Knowing your values can help you decide how to respond during times of stress and uncertainty, because whatever happens, you can still move in the direction of what matters the most to you.
  2. Expect some anxiety
    It’s part of being human, especially as we’ve all been coping with change and uncertainly for a prolonged period. Re-opening offers the opportunity to re-engage with many experiences and activities you haven’t done in a while. This can be daunting and it’s only natural to feel anxious. Remember that many people feel exactly the same, especially when it comes to re-engaging in social situations. Connecting with others that you trust can help you rebuild lost confidence.
  3. Set your own pace
    You may feel pressure to re-engage in activities straight away, especially now there are no restrictions. Doing too much at once can however leave you feeling overwhelmed. There’s no need to rush. Take time to ease yourself back into a routine that works for you and is in line with your goals and priorities. Give yourself plenty of time to relax and recuperate between activities such as going to more crowded spaces or being in larger groups. That way it will feel less daunting as you adapt to new experiences.
  4. Set your own rules
    Although government restrictions may have lifted, many organisations are making their own rules to keep their employees and customers safe. Remember you also have the freedom to set your own rules. You can carry on wearing a mask if it makes you feel more comfortable, and you can communicate your preferences to others. It can be helpful to tell people your boundaries in advance, for example asking them to wear a mask if they enter your home, or requesting seating remains socially distanced.
  5. Focus on what you can control
    While you can’t control the behaviour of those around you, there’s still plenty you can control. Mindfulness can help you deal with day-to-day stresses by helping you keep your focus in the present moment, rather than always worrying about the future. Taking even just 5 minutes to sit quietly and notice your surroundings can help you feel more conscious and connected for the rest of your day.
  6. Avoid information overload
    Don’t overwatch or overread the news. Living in the digital age we are bombarded with ever-expanding sources of often conflicting or contradictory information. Limit your updates to once or twice a day and to one or two reliable and trusted sources. Reading every news report and update on every news or social media site can feed anxious cycles.
  7. Remember to breathe
    When we experience stress, our breathing becomes more rapid. When you feel yourself getting worked up, pay attention to the length of your inhales and exhales – try to breathe less than 12 breaths a minute. Slower breathing decreases the body’s stress response.
  8. Think about your thinking
    Be kind to yourself by practising talking to yourself with understanding and compassion. Speak to yourself as you would to a friend to reassure them, or the way an encouraging coach would, rather than a critic. Also, don’t accept your thoughts as facts – just because something feels scary, it doesn’t always mean something bad will happen. When you notice a change in your mood, ask yourself, “What was I thinking about just before that?”. Was the thought helpful or unhelpful? It can help to imagine a friend saying your thought out loud – if it’s unhelpful, what would you say to them to challenge their thinking?
  9. Practise acceptance of uncertainty
    As humans we crave certainty, and find uncertainly incredibly difficult to deal with. As we navigate another changing landscape practising acceptance of uncertainty can help. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a powerful technique used in CBT that can help us to manage dealing with the unknown. It’s a skill that requires practise, but it does get easier with time. If you find yourself stuck in a worry cycle, try postponing your worrying to specific times (e.g. half an hour in the morning and evening). Attention training or mindfulness exercises can help you become more aware of your thoughts and how to direct your attention away from worrisome rumination.

Further support

If you'd like further advice you can book a call with one of our therapists at a time and date that is convenient for you by using the calendar below. A therapist will help you to understand why you feel like you do, give you time to explore your concerns, answer any questions you have, and if further therapy is required, will discuss with you what approach is right for you to enable you to feel better. If you choose to continue with therapy we can then arrange the support that you need with one of our mental health professionals. Your call will last approximately 30 minutes.

Last updated Thursday 22 July 2021

First published on Thursday 22 July 2021