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Wellbeing: Feeling anxious about going outside now lockdown has eased? We ask the experts for advice on how to get you out the door…

Sage advice: It is vital to forge connections with others for our mental health

THE past four months have been challenging in so many ways, and yet we have managed to adapt and create a new way of living. However, just as some of us were starting to feel settled, Boris Johnson eased restrictions and we’re allowed to venture out into the big wide world once again.

But, over the past few months, the all-too-familiar FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) might have been replaced with a FOGO (Fear Of Going Out). A recent study of 80,000 people by University College London, found that the easing of restrictions in May had already caused an increase in stress levels, and while some will have felt eager to get out again, others will be feeling more anxious. We’ve asked the experts for tips on how to help you make those first steps back to normality.

FEAR LEVEL 1: CAUTIOUS

‘As humans, we don’t like change,’ says clinical hypnotherapist Fiona Lamb (fionalamb.com). ‘But, we have managed to become comfortable in this new controlled way of living with a stripped-back lifestyle that avoids social activities and contact with friends and family.

‘Everyone is wondering how they will cope post-lockdown as there is still so much uncertainty. The world seems out of control right now and the future is harder to picture. For a lot of people, priorities have drastically shifted, and spending money at restaurants and bars seems pointless.

‘However, it is not good for us to be locked up. We need connection to support our mental health and we should not rely solely on technology for human interaction. It is healthy for us to engage with others, to try new things and to step outside our comfort zone. Isolation can lead to loneliness and can diminish our confidence and self-esteem.

‘It is only ever our imagination trying to predict what could go wrong that brings about anxiety and fear, so try to keep your routine similar and venture out at a time when you feel most comfortable. That might be meeting a friend for coffee in the morning, or a run at night. Don’t say yes to a dinner with a big group you haven’t seen in a while. Pay close attention to who you feel comfortable around and stick to social interactions with them.’

FEAR LEVEL 2: FRIGHTENED

‘It is in our human nature to occasionally worry about things,’ says psychologist Dr Martina Paglia (theinternationalpsychologyclinic.com). ‘These worries help us to do the best we can in life. They come and go, like a single small wave in an otherwise calm sea. However, some people’s worries have become more intense and constant during lockdown. It is like a rough sea, where one wave of worry is immediately followed by the next with no end in sight. This is exhausting. It makes it hard to relax, concentrate or sleep.

‘If you’re one of these people, draw on the people you trust most for support. It can be very helpful to share your worries with a trusted someone. A friend who will not exacerbate them, but who shows empathy and understanding, while also reassuring you that your worries will not become reality. Engaging in movement is also a great way to battle the constant stream of worry. It helps reduce the tension that might have built up and gives you a feel-good boost. Exercising outdoors can also help to ease you out of your home.’

FEAR LEVEL 3: AGORAPHOBIC

‘It comes as no surprise to me that some people are now feeling agoraphobic because of “dangers” outside,’ says anxiety expert Joshua Fletcher (joshuafletcher.co.uk). ‘The part of our brain responsible for sensing and warning us of danger is something called our amygdala. The amygdala fires up our fight-or-flight response in anticipation of danger. You’ll notice your amygdala in action if you have been jolted awake when drifting off to sleep because of the feeling that you were falling.

‘Over the past few months, we have been told that the outside and other people are potentially dangerous, and rightly so. However, this has conditioned many people’s amygdala to trigger the fight-or-flight response when they so much as consider leaving their home.

‘The solution itself is quite simple. Essentially, it is to show the amygdala that the outside isn’t dangerous any more. To do this, we must tolerate the anxious, fight-or-flight response in situations where we’d like it to turn off. This scientifically proven method of exposure, which is used a lot in cognitive behavioural therapy, is very effective and often doesn’t take long.

‘With practice, the amygdala turns off, rewires itself, and we get back to normal.’

Conquer your fears

Stephanie Daines from wellbeing brand Rescue Remedy has come up with five tips to help you tackle the pressures to get back outside, now restrictions have eased.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

Don’t rush into anything; take time to reflect. Keep a journal and track your mood, or write a sentence about the situation. Projecting your thoughts onto a piece of paper can help you see things more clearly and understand what your next step should be.

VISUALISATION

Picture yourself in a situation: close your eyes and imagine you are sitting outside a pub with a group of friends. What pub is it? How many people are around you? As you’re doing this, take note of how you’re feeling.

TAKE IT SLOW

There’s no rush. Reassess how you’re feeling after every social situation and once you’re ready, move on to the next step.

Speak up Don’t feel pressured into doing something you don’t want to do. If a friend can’t understand why you won’t come to the pub, tell them that you need to take some time for yourself. Stand your ground.

Self-care If you’ve decided to stay in, don’t feel guilty. Instead, treat yourself to an evening of relaxation. There will be plenty of chances to go out. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable doing so.