ANU: The anxiety of a post-lockdown Christmas: an expert’s tips

Emerging from the quiet of lockdown to the cacophony of real-world socialisation is daunting enough. Throw in gossiping aunts, conspiracy theorist uncles, squabbling cousins and the drama of the Christmas holidays can be an anxiety-inducing time of year.

According to PhD researcher and psychologist from The Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Psychology, Aflaha Khan, post-lockdown anxiety is common.

“If you are feeling anxious about re-entering into the world, you are definitely not alone,” Khan says.

The psychologist says when navigating the transition out of COVID-19 lockdowns and into the Christmas chaos there are simple steps we can take, founded in meditation and mindfulness and which can reduce unpleasant feelings.

“Before being thrown into the festivities and crowds it can be beneficial to reflect on the types of situations that trigger your anxiety, and the early warning signs,” Khan says.

“Being aware of your triggers and early warning signs can help you to better manage anxiety by intervening before it gets worse.”

Of course, it is tempting to avoid the situation altogether, skip the social anxiety and delay your re-entrance to these high-pressure social events. However, Khan highlights this may do more harm than good.

“It is really important to understand that it can be unhelpful to avoid situations that cause you to feel anxious. Avoiding these situations may alleviate your anxiety in the short term but may cause it to increase the next time you encounter a similar situation,” she says.

“This is because by avoiding the situation you are anxious about, you miss the opportunity to experience an outcome that is different from the negative one your mind is predicting and to build confidence in your ability to cope with the anxiety-provoking situation.

“The next time you encounter a similar situation you may feel even more anxious. This is the vicious cycle of anxiety.”

So, what can we do when we start to become overwhelmed?

Khan says mindfulness activities can help prevent your mind from spiralling into negative thinking by bringing your attention back to the present moment.

“When you notice that your mind is either ruminating about social situations from the past or predicting how bad future social situations may be, look around you and notice five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.”

Also, practising “deeper and slower breathing” can help induce a more relaxed state.

“As you exhale, think ‘relax’ and imagine the tension releasing from your body,” Khan says. “And make sure your exhale is longer than your inhale.”

When finding the mindfulness or anxiety-reducing activity that works best for you, it’s important to remember that the first one you try may not be perfect.

“There is definitely a bit of trial and error involved when finding what works for you,” Khan says.

“If you are concerned about how anxious you feel, I encourage you to speak with your general practitioner as they will be able to direct you to supports and resources right for you.”

To help with this adjustment, Khan recommends “taking it slow and starting with activities you find enjoyable or meaningful”.

“Try staying in the moment, talking with supportive friends and family about how you are feeling, building awareness of what anxiety looks and feels like for you and focusing on what you can control,” she said.

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