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Millions of people in England will enjoy new freedoms in the coming weeks as lockdown eases.
Most outside social contact rules will be lifted, six people or two households will be able to meet indoors and hospitality and hotels will open – paving the way for much greater in-person social contact than any of us have experienced for months.
While for lots of people this will be exciting, for some this might be difficult after months of social restrictions.
Uncertainty fuels anxiety, and we would encourage everyone to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing, using the tips below developed as part of the Better Health – Every Mind Matters campaign.
Professor Tim Kendall, NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health, said: “The re-opening of society after lockdown is an exciting time that brings with it the chance to see loved ones face-to-face for the first time in more than a year. It will also be a time of significant anxiety for some; and people returning to work after being furloughed or working from home will also need time to adjust and employers should bear this in mind.”
Dr Prathiba Chitsabesan, NHS England’s Associate National Clinical Director for Children and Young People’s Mental Health, said: “We hope our guidance and top tips will help you adjust to this new transition, while prioritising your mental health and wellbeing. And remember: if you or a loved one is struggling to cope, there is support for you. NHS mental health services are open – please come forward for help.”
Clare Perkins, Director of the Mental Health Programme at Public Health England, said: “As restrictions lift and we begin to move to a more normal way of life, it is completely natural to feel anxious about this change. This Mental Health Awareness Week we encourage you to complete our Every Mind Matters Mind Plan, which provides simple, personalised steps to help navigate these challenging times.”
10 Tips to prioritise your mental health and wellbeing
1. Go at your own pace
It might be tempting to make lots of plans and say yes to everything as things start to open up, but there’s no need to rush.
Take it step by step and only do what is comfortable and safe for you to ease back into socialising – then you can build your time back up as your confidence returns.
2. Do not avoid challenging things entirely
Avoiding the things that make us anxious can sometimes feel like the easier option, but this can make it harder to start facing our fears.
Instead, try to set yourself small but manageable targets, like meeting 1 person for a coffee or snack outside, or getting a haircut, and gradually build up from there.
It can help to confide in a friend or family member so they can support you to overcome your anxieties.
3. Get your information from the right sources
Lots of conflicting and confusing information makes it hard to know what you can and cannot do or who to trust.
4. Make time to relax
Being able to see more of our friends and family, and visit places that might have been closed until now, is exciting. But it can also be a lot to take in all at once, so it’s important to find regular time for yourself to relax too.
NHS-recommended relaxation techniques can be found on the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust website.
5. Challenge unhelpful thoughts
It’s natural to feel worried every now and again but our anxious thoughts can sometimes be irrational.
If you can learn to identify and separate unhelpful thoughts from helpful ones, you can find a new way to look at the situation. Watch our video to find out more. Video: Reframing unhelpful thoughts.
6. Tell someone how you feel
It’s easy to feel isolated or lonely when we’re struggling. However, chances are someone we know feels exactly how we do too.
Opening up to a person you trust can be really helpful, whether it’s a friend or family member, your GP or an organisation’s helpline or online forum.
If you’re not ready to start socialising but are feeling lonely, there’s plenty of support out there like the ‘Let’s Talk Loneliness Campaign‘ and people you can speak to at any time.
7. Plan social occasions
Uncertainty can be hard to manage but making plans can help you avoid this. Preparing for any challenges ahead of time can help us to feel more comfortable and confident in what we’re doing.
That “plan” can be as simple as knowing what time an event will start and finish, and how many people are likely to be there. The more you know and the more you’re prepared for, the better.
It can also be helpful to talk to the rest of your household. Being aware of everybody’s fears and expectations can help to avoid conflict.
If you are worried that changes to restrictions may put pressure on your family help for parents is on the Young Minds website.
8. Find routine where you can
During lockdown, life changed for us all and we developed new routines. Even if your normal week day or weekend habits change, some things can stay the same.
Are there areas in your life where it’s easier to stick to a routine? Something as simple as going to bed and waking up at the same time each day or making sure to stick to your set lunch break can make a big difference. Video: Tips for sleeping better
9. Write down your thoughts
If you are feeling worried or upset it can be helpful to explore your feelings by keeping a diary or journal.
This can also be a great way to track your mood over time and remind yourself of the progress you have made. As your confidence begins to grow, you can look back over your entries to see how far you have come.
10. Focus on the present
When there is lots of change happening, we can get caught up in worrying about the future.
Try to shift your focus to the present – make plans but try not to dwell on “what ifs” or what was “supposed” to happen.
Relaxation, mindfulness or getting outside and enjoying nature are all good ways to help you focus on the present.
Better Health – Every Mind Matters is a campaign and digital resource designed to empower people to look after their mental health and wellbeing and support others. At its heart is the free NHS-approved Mind Plan.
By answering five quick questions you’ll get a personalised action plan with practical tips to help you deal with stress and anxiety, boost your mood, sleep better and feel more in control.