Lockdown restrictions are easing in some parts of the world, and for some that’s a welcome relief. I’m personally grateful that my favourite coffee shop is open, and that the independent shops in my local town have a chance to make some money again. But – as an asthmatic – I’m also cautious about my own health, and I don’t want to move too fast, too soon.
Invariably, everyone has a different answer to the question of how to leave lockdown safely. A close friend of mine has a far higher risk tolerance level than I do – since shops, cafes and restaurants have reopened in England, he’s been out almost every night, whereas I ate out for the first and only time since lockdown (very tentatively) on Sunday. He also works in an office which is buzzing with people – I’m continuously grateful that I’m still allowed to work from home. Neither of us is ‘wrong’ – in that we’re both sticking to the official rules (masks, hand sanitiser and social distancing abound). But he tolerates risk at a level that literally makes me feel nauseous with anxiety.
The truth is that different people have different levels of risk tolerance – and there isn’t a single right way to leave lockdown. I think, ultimately, that it has to be about doing what works for us as individuals to feel safe and in control.
Having thought about this A LOT, here are my five top tips:
1. Don’t let other people (or FOMO) influence how you come out of lockdown
We’re all looking for validation at the moment – we want to know what ‘normal’ looks like. When we were in full lockdown, ‘normal’ was simple – no one could go anywhere or do anything – and everyone was in exactly the same boat. Now that lockdown restrictions are easing, it feels unsettling because everyone’s moving at a different pace and we don’t know what normal looks like any more. We’ve also become far more individually responsible for what we do, where we go, and how we keep ourselves and others safe – and that carries a lot of responsibility with it.
The first point is not to let anyone else push you to leave lockdown sooner than you feel comfortable. It’s fine for a friend or family member to suggest meeting up, or to suggest that you try going out more than you have been. But it’s not okay for anyone to shame you or to make you feel bad for not doing what they want you to – especially not when it’s your health at stake.
This might be difficult if you’re talking to someone whose opinion you rate highly – especially if it appears as though they have everything under control. Always remember that it’s no-one’s decision but yours. You might need to offer a reminder about the seriousness of the situation; to put boundaries around the activity in question (‘it’s fine to go for a walk, but I want us to wear masks the whole time’); or to offer an alternative (‘I don’t feel comfortable going shopping with you, but I’d love to have a coffee’). If you continue to feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to say no and to suggest trying again another time (e.g.: ‘I’d love to see you, but it doesn’t seem as though we can find a way to meet up that leaves us both feeling safe / comfortable. Why don’t we come back to it in a couple of weeks, and see if we can make something work then?’)
You might also need to recognise your own ‘fear of missing out’ and take care that it doesn’t tip you over into taking decisions about what to do / where to go that you later realise weren’t right for you.
2. Do go at your own pace, and be mindful of how you feel
The ‘do’ to the first ‘don’t’ is to go completely at your pace. Start small, one outing at a time, perhaps with quieter and/or more local shops and cafes that feel familiar and involve less travel. I started with a wander down my local high street (face mask on the whole time). I found it really reassuring to see people keeping their distance, and nice to see people out and about – it made it feel normal.
As you go, be mindful. How did you feel before your outing? How do you feel now? What did you enjoy / not enjoy? What made you feel more or less comfortable? What actions did you / others take which made you feel more / less safe? Now that you know these things, you’ll know what needs to be in place for you to feel comfortable going out. You can use this knowledge to negotiate your boundaries with others (see 1 above), and to decide whether you want to scale back your outings, do similar types of outing, or push yourself to do a little bit more next time.
3. Be practical, be cautious and follow the rules
For all that leaving lockdown means more opportunities to leave the house, that doesn’t mean being blasé. Anyone who lives alone knows that the thought of getting sick alone is a scary one. The rules exist for a reason – if you’re going out, follow them. Face masks are a must – as are hand sanitiser, keeping your distance, and removing outer layers of clothing promptly when you get home. You might want to go further than this – showering, washing clothes, or putting anything you’ve bought (or bags you’ve used) to one side for 72 hours. It’s really about doing what you need to, in order to feel safe – whatever you routine, it’s absolutely fine. Let no-one tell you otherwise!
4. Remember what you learnt during lockdown, and hold on to this
None of us were expecting lockdown. And while it hasn’t always been comfortable, it has been an opportunity to see how each of us copes under a completely new set of circumstances. Since the lockdown started, I’ve realised how much I love being outside – and I haven’t stopped noticing the birdsong since. I’ve spent more time at home without feeling guilty about missing meet ups with my friends, and I’ve discovered a new found love of gardening (who knew!) I’ve also realised that I have friendships which can weather the twists and turns of a pandemic, where others evaporated as soon as things got tough for each of us.
What experiences have you enjoyed? What have you enjoyed least? What are the things that have most rewarded you – emotionally, financially, spiritually? Who are the people you’ve most missed – and who have been the ones to stay in touch? Listen to your reactions – they’ll tell you all you need to know about the people and experiences you need to hold on to, and the ones you should let go as you move through to the next part of your life.
5. Try to think about building towards a new life, rather than craving your old one.
While some things will go back to how they were before the pandemic – we need to start to accept that some things will never go back to the way they were. It could be that a favourite local hotspot has closed down, or that your employer is making permanent changes to the way you’re expected to work. You may have to adjust your usual routines or switch to different activities to feel safe. More starkly, you might have been left with health problems relating to Covid-19, you might have even lost loved ones during this period.
None of this is easy, and it’s okay (and important) to grieve for the parts of your life that have irreversibly changed. Alongside this, it’s important to cultivate a sense of gratitude for what has gone before, what you’ve learnt, and what you still have. Look to the future, and to the kind of life you want to build for yourself on the other side of Covid-19, and take the lessons you’ve learnt from this period with you.