How to ease back into post-iso life

Social distancing rules are being gradually relaxed – but if you’re feeling a mixture of relief and anxiety about returning to a ‘new normal’, you’re not alone.

After weeks of staying home, keeping our distance from others and, for many, a slower and quieter lifestyle, coronavirus lockdown restrictions are finally being eased across Australia’s states and territories.

It means we will soon be able to spend time with family and friends, send the kids back to school, and start heading back into the office.

So how can you ease yourself back into the daily grind?

What you can expect to feel in coming weeks

While lifting strict social distancing measures may be cause for celebration, psychotherapist Pauline McKinnon says some people may actually experience sadness, a sense of loss or anxiety.

There have been many unexpected upsides of isolation for some people, such as being able to work from home and spending more time with their family.

“I think the prospect of suddenly having the doors opened and being expected to resume life as it sort of was, is probably (going to be) a bit challenging for many,” says Pauline, founder of the Stillness Meditation Centre in Melbourne.

What we are likely to miss about self-isolation

While living in isolation initially seemed a daunting prospect, some people have found that the lifestyle agrees with them.

Psychology researcher Ash King says a type of freedom that has come from living under lockdown may be hard to walk away from.

“For many people, it’s offered the freedom of restructuring life on their own terms – substituting busy, peak-hour commutes and inane office meetings with sleep-ins, home workouts, extra time with partners and family,” says Ash, of The Indigo Project in Sydney.

“Some people have leaned into this increase in spare time by relaxing more, enjoying hobbies, and discovering new interests.”

What to watch out for in a post-iso world

Change can be unsettling

Pauline expects “a lot of disruption” as restrictions are relaxed, which she says could trigger mental concerns, stress, anxiety and depression.

And even if we’re technically resuming our lives again, it’s likely there will be those who are still wary of COVID-19, which in turn can lead to feeling more anxious.

Monitor how you are feeling

As the weeks progress, pause and think about how you’re feeling. Be aware of common signs of anxiety such as a racing mind, difficulty sleeping, tiredness and feeling tense.

If you’re concerned, don’t be afraid to seek help.

“Understand that it’s completely normal and human to have feelings of anxiety or sadness about having to adjust (yet again) to a new normal,” says Ash.

Beyond Blue (1300 224 636) and Lifeline (131 114) are among support services available.

Listen to your feelings

Instead of trying to distract yourself from your feelings, Ash advises to sit with them and get curious about what they’re trying to tell you.

“Why is anxiety showing up for you? Why is sadness showing up for you? Is it discomfort about adjusting to change? Is it grief for the loss of a lifestyle that was working for you? Our emotions can often give us great insight into ourselves,” she says.

Steps to re-entering ‘normal life’

Pause and reflect on the past few months

While having to emotionally, physically and mentally emerge from isolation is inevitable, a gentle way to ease back into things is to reflect upon the experience.

“I think it’s useful to remember what we have learned… take time to review that and think about what’s been good, and how can you keep that in your life,” says Pauline.

Incorporate what you’ve learned into post-iso life

Ash suggests writing a list of the things that worked for you during self-isolation, such as certain activities or aspects of your routine.

Then note down the things you are looking forward to picking up again, like sitting down for dinner at a restaurant or catching up with a group of friends.

“See if you can retain some of the behaviours and supports that were working for you in iso and integrate them into your new routine, as you re-emerge into the world,” she says.

Written by Tania Gomez.