Released from lockdown – how does that feel?

Mar 29


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Helen Whitten

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Released from lockdown – how does that feel?

We’re about to be let loose.  Or just a little anyway, step by hopeful step.  It seems extraordinary that we have been under near house arrest for a year now, unable to see family and friends, to work, mix and do the normal human and sociable things we do.  It is going to take a bit of getting used to, I suspect.

Several people I know have said they will find it frightening to go out and about again, to travel by tube or bus, let alone by plane.  They can’t imagine being inside in a room with other people for a dinner, party or festivity.  That feels a bit sad to me and I was happy to hear Sir Richard Sykes, Chair of the Royal Institution, on the radio this morning encouraging us not to be ‘cripplingly cautious’ but to embrace the fact that in the UK we have had a fantastic vaccination programme and, in addition to that, he suggests that many more people will actually have, asymptomatically, had Covid-19 than are statistically recorded, so will have some kind of immunity.

But of course we have to be watchful and I think many of us have become near hermits, unused to making the social effort to entertain others.  I look back on the sort of dinner parties I used to host in the 1980s and 90s and wonder how on earth I did it.  The thought of cooking for others again is both exciting but a tad daunting!

I have been reminding myself of how we do, eventually, persuade ourselves to come out of dangerous situations and accept that all of life has an element of risk. And, it seems, we shall have to adapt to accepting that coronavirus may well be a continued risk for us all going forward.

For me, in my lifetime, I can remember the IRA bombs of the 1970s and how I would occasionally leave a tube train at the next station if I heard an Irish voice in the carriage.  Nonetheless I remember taking my darling niece up to see Father Christmas at Selfridges because we all agreed that we should not be forced to limit our lives out of fear.  Both she and I treasure that memory.

The same, of course, happened after 9/11, and 7/7 – different voices but the same impact.  I would leave the train.  And be nervous, in the 80s, of hijack, then in the Noughties I would fear people putting bombs in shoes or bottles.  More recently we have had the Islamic knife attacks.  We have had SARS and Ebola scares. All these events make people nervous for a while and then gradually life returns to normal.

When I fell down the stairs one morning at South Kensington station (stupidly carrying my laptop case so that the strap dangled and caught in my shoe) it took me quite a while to feel safe on stairs.  Even now I am far more careful to hold onto the handrail.  But I certainly do go downstairs as I couldn’t live a normal life without having ‘faced my fear and done it anyway’, as the book by Susan Jeffers advocates.

But what happens is that gradually we do start to venture out again and with each adventure, when we return safe, we build our resilience and sense of comfort. 

As Sir Richard Sykes said this morning, children need to get back to education, students to universities, people back to work.  The young need to frolic and pair-bond, the elderly need to see their children and grandchildren, and, eventually we hope, hug and be hugged.

So grasp the nettle and let us all work together to bring back some kind of normality.  We need to get back to work, or poverty will rise worldwide exponentially.  We need to create, have ideas, start new businesses or put our all into whatever business or enterprise we are involved in.  We shall soon need to embrace teamworking and being back in an office – people can’t possibly be as efficient if they are permanently working from home, nor can junior staff or apprentices learn a thing about work unless they watch those who are experienced carrying out their tasks.

But I hope there will remain more flexibility of choice at work, with some homeworking enabled within some time spent with colleagues and clients. 

I think we would all fester if we stayed at home forever, not mixing with others on a face-to-face basis, listening to their views and perspectives, enjoying a good debate or conversation over a glass of wine or cup of tea.  It’s what life is made of.  And for entrepreneurs in particular.  Take the Industrial Revolution, without sharing their ideas in coffee shops and clubs, the inventors may not have had the stimulation to advance our lives in the way they did. 

And what does staying isolated do to our immune systems in the long run?  Surely we need to mix with others to build up immunity to the everyday bugs, small children particularly?

We shall have to remind ourselves to put our glad rags on, finally get our hair cut, coloured, styled, and wear something smart.  We might rather enjoy it in the end but it will probably feel a little weird at first.  I can’t remember the last time I wore high heels and I shall no doubt wobble around on them to start with but at 5’2 I am usually very happy to have that little ‘lift’.

The process of which I write is known, in psychological terms, as ‘exposure theory’, eg the more we do something we are nervous of the more we adapt to the situation, proving to ourselves that we can survive despite discomfort.  Gradually, through repetition, we become at ease with the challenge.  People apply this theory, one might just call it common sense, to a fear of spiders, or flying, to giving presentations, or to social anxiety, so we can apply it to coming out of Covid-19 lockdown too.

I wonder how you are feeling, yourself?  Excited or a little nervous?  What is the first thing you would really love to do?  Is there one thing that will remind you that the world is returning to some kind of new normal?

Of course we can’t be certain that the journey out of lockdown will not be without its setbacks. We shall have to keep alert to ripples or waves of Covid return. But, if as many people as possible get vaccinated in the UK then we could be set fair for life returning to normal. But this is back to a future where coronavirus is likely to be one of the additional risks we have to face in our daily lives, like flu, cancer, or car accidents.

Personally, as the vaccination programme progresses, I think every government in the world could well be saying to its population “your country needs you” to come out of isolation, wear a mask, don’t breathe unnecessarily on others, but come out, work hard, create, spend money, go to the pub, go to the theatre, stay in hotels, eat out at restaurants, buy new clothes and get our economy, and life, going again. What we do in our own country ripples out to the whole world. 

So live, love and be merry. Step by hopeful step.


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