Habit Binge

Why people are anxious after leaving lockdown


As thousands in Sydney skip to the pub for a beer or two, some are encountering a daunting problem after emerging from lockdown.

Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week Dr Zac talks about anxiety after emerging from lockdown.

Hi Dr Zac,

Question: I’m a Sydneysider and for the first time in a long time, this week I tasted real freedom. It was very sweet, but after about an hour at the pub I was hit with a sudden wave of anxiety. I was so excited to be out and about but at the same time it dawned on me that being in public also meant social interactions and small talk.

I haven’t seen anyone other than my partner for 100 days, and I feel like I’ve lost my social muscles. Can you help me feel confident again, and make me love my time in the pub? Making things even harder was my constant yawning at 8pm and longing for my bed at 8.30pm. I’m 28 years old and in the prime of my life – not a middle-aged woman, exhausted after working a full-time job and also raising three kids and a husband! I need my mojo back.

Answer: I think it’s fair to say many of us in NSW, and certainly in Victoria, would have experienced some form of ‘social muscle atrophy’ this lockdown. After 106 days kept shut inside, we all will feel several mixed feelings depending on how the lockdown treated us – relief and excitement for some, but stress and anxiety for others.

If you feel like the latter, my first piece of advice is to go outside, sit down, take 10 deep breaths, and then try to take 10 deep breaths and spread it out over at least a minute, calming your mind and getting some oxygen to the base of your lungs. Tell yourself that it will take time to adapt to the post-lockdown life and this could be just the opportunity and circuit-breaker to approach situations a little differently.

Humans are creatures of habit; we prefer to stick to a routine. Lockdowns have slowly but surely morphed our personal behaviours to an alternative state of living – otherwise known as ‘iso-culture’. We are happy to sit on the couch and binge TikTok than socialise, we no longer see the need to dress up and we sure aren’t bothered to stay up past 9pm. Going on dates means meeting in the living room, or for the more adventurous, a spa session has meant two people cramped in a regular bathtub.

Snapping out of this hermit-like routine takes effort, and it will take us time to return to a new normal of socialising with each other. My recommendation – do not snap out of these habits immediately. Rather, take your time, and strategise your return to the pub, club, or communal sauna. Look at the important parts of what you’re doing and what you value about rushing between various social gatherings.

There’re lots of health benefits to a bit of hermit-like solitude, and as we are set free, some solitude and me time is a good thing to keep around. Every time someone invites you out to the pub, weigh up the pros and cons. Who’s going? Will you drink a lot, or a little? Is there something on the menu you can order that you want to try or miss? Make yourself feel comfortable and excited about the event before you arrive. Then you’ll enter in the right headspace and have a blast.

Although we miss our friends dearly, I don’t recommend all 12 of you catch up at once. It will be an overstimulation which will lead to unnecessary anxiety. Try meeting up with one friend, and then add another friend each time you go out. Build your way up to a party, don’t start with one.

And I don’t believe we should be banishing our hermit lifestyles altogether. Over lockdown we have all accumulated good habits, such as improved sleeping habits, regular exercise and cutting down on binge drinking. I say we should keep those good habits, as they will lessen anxiety.

There are certainly a few Dr Zac tips and tricks I can impart that will have you feeling excited to socialise and help regain your mojo.

Learn how to have fun again

Try to engage with the activities you’ve missed during lockdown. Spend an entire weekend planned around the activity. It could be camping, go-karting, laser tag or simply just being at the beach, just choose one and stick to it solely.

Surround yourself with supportive friends

As much as I love to tell my patients to be honest with me, I do stress to them that they must also be honest with their friends. If your friends are informed that you are feeling a little uneasy or anxious, they will be understanding, and I bet they have been struggling with similar stresses.

Breathe in, and out

Meditation and breathing exercises can do wonders for stress and anxieties. Find yourself a technique that works for you, and don’t be afraid to do it wherever you are. If you’re in the pub and beginning to spiral out, head to the bathroom or a quiet spot and do five minutes of breathing. You may look weird, but trust me it’s 2021, how weird can it really be after all this?

Now hear me out, because I am about to recommend you chase a ‘high’ to stay awake at the pub – a natural high of course! Naturally boosting your energy can happen in so many simple ways. Eating your breakfast each day will lead to less fatigue and stress. Stick to high-fibre foods, like porridge.

Having a quick yoga session before a few wines with the girls will have you feeling energised. Mix that in with meditation and you will become a fatigue fighter. Exercise of any kind is a great energy boost because oxygen-rich blood begins to surge through your heart, muscles, and brain.

Before you head out with your mates to the pub, grab a handful of almonds or peanuts on your way out the door. They are high in magnesium and folate which are nutrients essential for energy production.

And here’s a kooky idea: Chew on peppermint or cinnamon gum. Both ingredients have been shown to reduce fatigue and raise alertness.

And of course, surround yourself with people who are full of energy. Emotions are contagious, and so if they are happy, you will feel happy.

We are all in this together Natalie. Good luck at the pub!

Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors. He was also a registered nurse and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.

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