Since last week, people in England are able to meet outdoors in bigger groups again, and there are now looser restrictions on public places like pubs, restaurants, and cinemas. With these changes, “re-entry anxiety” is becoming increasingly common, as many people feel pressure to leave the comfort zones they’ve settled into over the last year.

Whilst events in the world have presented mental health challenges for all of us, for many introverts, one of the unexpected blessings of lockdown has been to feel that homebody tendencies don’t have to be explained or excused. It has been acceptable–in fact required–to lead a quiet life. The quiet souls amongst us may have found their natural preferences matching the demands of the world for once. No busy offices, rowdy parties or enforced jollity, no need to feel self-conscious or guilty about preferring the simple pleasures of life.

But over the past week, seeing pub gardens suddenly full to bursting, many of us may have had a sense of being slightly out of sync. Perhaps you’ve found yourself worrying that you  ‘should’ be more excited about the changes, or making more plans to be sociable.

So what to do if - like so many of us - you’re feeling hesitant, overwhelmed or worried about the return of ‘normality’ and all that goes with it? How might mindfulness help at this time of transition?

  • There is no ‘right’ way to feel. It’s OK to be feeling excited about lockdown easing, but it’s equally OK to be feeling ambivalent. Sadness, fear, joy, relief, worry – these are ALL valid and natural responses to this time of readjustment. The mindful principle of non-judgment can be reassuring here; there is no hierarchy of emotions and you don’t need to change or fix how you’re feeling. This can be particularly helpful when you feel that you should or shouldn’t be responding in a certain way. It can be a huge relief to let go of the burden of self-judgment and just allow things to be as they are.

  • Be gentle with yourself. In mindfulness we try to cultivate a type of awareness that is warm, accepting and friendly. To take one example, seeing lots of people out socialising again may have brought up a sense of loneliness for some of us and our knee-jerk reaction might be to criticise ourselves, or to get lost in stories about our social failings. With mindfulness, we try to acknowledge the fact that we’re feeling lonely, and turn towards that feeling with care and warmth. The harsh tone of thoughts we might normally have like “No-one likes me, I’m a loser”, can be replaced by the gentler, friendlier tone of thoughts like “It’s really hard to be feeling this lonely, what can I do to look after myself just now?”

  • You’re not the only one feeling this way. Over the past year many of us appreciated the sense of solidarity and connection that came from knowing that we were all in it together. That sense of connection may be less apparent now, but you can take comfort in the knowledge that a good portion of the population is probably feeling just like you. Stuck at home with chronic pain? You’re not alone. Feeling worried? You’re not alone. Dreading noisy pubs and offices? You’re not alone. This sense of connection can be grown simply by using our imagination, like we would in a Connection or Loving Kindness meditation, to build a picture of the many other people who may – and likely are - feeling just like us.

Sally Harris