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Coming out of lockdown: staying safe and managing anxiety !!!

Are you unsure about the changes to rules on masks, social distancing, work and socialising? We share tips for staying safe as we prepare for lockdown restrictions to end across the UK.

As Covid-19 restrictions begin to lift, many of us are looking forward to returning to activities that we’ve missed over the last year. But for many people, this can cause anxiety or stress. We know that it can feel more difficult because your risk of catching the virus is affected not just by what you do, but what people around you do. And although hospitalisation rates are improving, thanks to the vaccine, we know you may have concerns over rising cases or new variants.

Should I still wear a face mask?

Each nation has specific rules in place around face masks, and different arrangements around when and where they will no longer be required by law. Face masks have played an important role in reducing the spread of coronavirus. As they become voluntary in different parts of the UK, it will be up to each of us to consider the risks and benefits of wearing them, for us and those around us.

Choosing to wear a face covering, especially in enclosed or crowded spaces, will continue to limit the spread of coronavirus. Face masks are particularly useful at reducing the spread of the virus from people who don’t have coronavirus symptoms and don’t realise they may be infected. They are most effective at protecting those around you, but wearing one may help protect you as well. We know that for some people, deciding whether to continue wearing face masks will be a difficult decision to make – but it might be helpful to remember that face masks don’t need to be all or nothing. There are some situations where you may feel more comfortable wearing a mask for your safety, and for the safety of those around you. These might include times when:

  • you are indoors or in a crowded place
  • you are using public transport
  • you are in an area where Covid-19 cases are rising
  • you are particularly vulnerable, for example, because of your age or health, or you are spending time with someone who is.

If the person you are with would feel more comfortable if you’re all wearing masks, it may be considerate to go along with that. For example, if they’ve just put a mask on, you could do the same. You could also ask the person you’re meeting in advance if they would feel more comfortable if you both wear them. In time, you may feel more comfortable about not wearing a mask as cases of Covid-19 fall and things start to return to normal.

When might masks still be required?

While the legal requirement to wear a face mask is ending in some parts of the UK, some healthcare settings, businesses, and travel operators will still need you to wear a face covering to access their services. You may still be required to wear a face covering when you’re at the GP, in a hospital, or other healthcare setting. Face masks will also be required on public transport in London, as well as on some airlines. 

Do I still need to socially distance?

As with face coverings, each nation in the UK has specific rules in place around social distancing, and different arrangements around when and where it will no longer be required by law. Many of the issues to consider about social distancing are similar to the issues around face coverings. For example, you may feel differently depending on your own level of risk from the virus, and your attitude to risk generally. And as with face coverings, the actions of other people will also make a difference, not just what you do yourself.

If you don’t feel comfortable without social distancing, you might prefer to travel on public transport at less crowded times, and to avoid shops and other enclosed spaces at their busiest times. If it isn’t possible to socially distance, wearing a face covering and frequent hand washing can still help to reduce the risk of catching or spreading Covid-19. You may wish to be particularly careful in areas where infection levels are high.

Are there extra steps I can take if I am in the shielding group (clinically extremely vulnerable)?

As someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, it’s important that you continue being careful when meeting people you don’t live with. There are extra steps you can take to reduce your risk of catching or passing on the virus when you are meeting with others. For example, you might consider:

  • meeting outdoors rather than inside
  • choosing a place that is well ventilated and opening up the windows or doors if you do meet inside
  • regularly washing your hands and avoiding touching your face
  • considering whether you or those you are meeting with are fully vaccinated – you might choose to wait until 14 days after your second dose to be in close contact with others
  • asking those you are meeting with to take a lateral flow test before seeing you
  • continuing social distancing if it feels right for you.

How do I tell others I want to continue social distancing?

If you would feel more comfortable practicing social distancing for now, it might help to explain this to colleagues, friends or family before you meet them. You don’t need to give a reason, although you may choose to tell them that while you’re really looking forward to seeing them, you’d prefer to socially distance because you have a heart condition that puts you at more risk from Covid-19, or that you’re worried about catching the virus because you have a friend or family member who is vulnerable. Or you could say that you’re worried about long Covid – especially as we know that in some cases, people who weren’t even seriously ill from having Covid-19 have gone on to develop long Covid. If you are meeting a family member or someone close to you, it might help to consider whether you are comfortable greeting them with a hug. Letting the person know in advance can help to avoid confusion, or help you avoid a situation you’re not comfortable with. Ultimately, you don’t need to feel under pressure to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Being open with other people about how you feel, while being aware that other people may feel differently, can be helpful.

Returning to work

Guidance to work from home where possible is due to be relaxed across some parts of the UK. You may be looking forward to returning to your workplace, or you may feel unsure about what’s best to do, especially if you have been working from home for the majority of the pandemic. Employers have a legal responsibility to make sure employees are protected from any health or safety risks while at work. Many employers will have measures in place to restrict the spread of Covid-19. For example, some employers may request staff to undertake regular Covid-19 tests .You might find it helpful to speak with your employer about what measures they will have in place before you return to work, so you know what to expect. Can you arrange to go back to your workplace one or two days a week at first, to allow you to get used to it? If your concern is about getting public transport, perhaps you could travel outside of peak times? Or you may be able to cycle, walk or drive. Bear in mind that other people will also be going back to work gradually and in many cases working from home more, so public transport may not be as busy as it used to be. Although we do know that having both doses of the vaccine provides the greatest protection, the government guidance doesn’t suggest that you need to wait until you are fully vaccinated to return to work.

Going out to pubs and restaurants

The restrictions that have been in place in pubs and restaurants, such as social distancing and limits on numbers, are expected to lift soon across some parts of the UK. If you want to socialise but you’re concerned about the risk from the virus, here are some simple ways to reduce your risk of catching the virus while visiting pubs or restaurants:

  • Go at a quieter time, for example a weekday rather than a weekend evening
  • Sit outside rather than inside
  • Sit facing away from people you don’t live with, if possible
  • Use hand sanitiser when you arrive, and also wash your hands before and after eating
  • Use contactless payment rather than cash.

If you don’t feel ready yet to meet family or friends in a pub or restaurant, give yourself some time to get used to the idea of going out again to socialise. You could always try going out for a quiet meal with one close friend or family member, rather than with a group.

Going shopping

If you’re heading to the shops after rules on face coverings and social distancing have been relaxed, you may have concerns about how to reduce your risk of catching coronavirus. These tips could help to reduce your risk of catching Covid-19:

  • Choose times of day when it won’t be so busy, like early in the morning or later in the evening
  • Choose shops that are quieter, or have more space for shoppers to socially distance
  • Take hand sanitiser with you and use it regularly
  • Do one big shop instead of lots of small ones
  • Use contactless payment instead of cash

I’m feeling anxious about restrictions ending, what should I do?

We know that this is a worrying time for many people. Restrictions easing can feel like a dramatic change to your way of life, and may cause you to feel anxious or stressed. Many people have been worried about the virus for a long time, so it’s hard to switch off that feeling overnight. Because your own risk is affected by other people’s actions, not just your own, you may not feel in control and we know that can make things feel harder. Try to give yourself time to adjust to the changing reality, and be realistic about the fact that it may not feel easy at first, and that you’re not alone in feeling this way. Don’t feel you have to rush into making big changes. Talking to the people around you about how you feel can be helpful, both for moral support and for practical reasons, if you want them to adjust their behaviour when they’re with you.

If you are worried about your mental health, feeling low in mood, anxious or depressed, or unable to cope, it’s important that you get the right support.

  • Talk to your family or friends – It can help to open up about what you’re going through. While this may feel difficult at first, once your loves ones know what’s worrying you, they’ll be better able to support you. Read more information from Mind about opening up to your family and friends.
  • Speak to your GP – Your GP is there to support you with your mental health. They can help understand what you’re going through, recommend the right treatment, and refer you on to other services if needed. If you’re nervous about speaking to them, read more information about talking to your GP about your mental health.
  • Call the Anxiety UK helpline to speak to someone – 08444 775774 (open 9.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday)
  • Call the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393 or email Mind
  • Visit the NHS mental health information hub

It feels like a long time since I had my vaccine – am I still protected?

We don’t know for sure how long the vaccine’s protection will last, which is one reason why a booster campaign is being planned for those most at risk. Most people in the UK have had their second dose since late February 2021, and in many cases not until spring or summer 2021. Based on what we know so far, it seems likely that most people will still have some level of protection from the vaccine.

We know that the antibodies are likely to last at least several months, but will decline over time.1 One study, published in the journal Immunity, of 5,882 people who had recovered from Covid-19 infection, found that antibodies were still present in their blood five to seven months after their illness. We don’t know how the antibodies produced to the vaccine might behave differently, but the vaccine does seem to produce a strong immune response. A clinical trial of the Moderna vaccine found that participants had high levels of antibodies six months after their second dose.

If you’re over 70 or clinically extremely vulnerable, you will be among the people prioritised for the booster dose, which is likely to be given from September. Although we can’t know all the answers to how long vaccine immunity lasts (because the vaccine hasn’t been around long enough), cases and hospitalisation rates from Covid-19 are being monitored and published frequently.

How to deal with social anxiety after lockdown

Remember that you don’t have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable to. If you are trying to begin socialising again, it may be helpful to ease back gradually and start small. It can be helpful to think about what you do and don’t want to do socially, and to set some goals for yourself. It probably isn’t helpful to avoid social situations completely, but if you want to say no to some things that you don’t think you’ll enjoy, or don’t feel ready for, that’s okay.

Some things may be different in future – like whether people shake hands or hug each other. It may be useful to remember that there will be other people feeling as unsure as you are. Trying to focus on putting the other person at ease can be a good way of managing your own social anxiety, as well as being helpful to them.

Source: British Heart Foundation (Published on 16 July 2021)