Why it's completely normal to feel anxious about going outside again, even once it is safe to

If you are struggling with the thought of going to malls or restaurants even though you now can, you are not alone

Women wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus, sit at a restaurant in the Mall of Dubai on April 28, 2020, after the shopping centre was reopened as part of moves in the Gulf emirate to ease lockdown restrictions imposed last month to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 illness.  / AFP / Karim SAHIB
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Slowly but surely, signs of normality are beginning to pop up across the UAE. While the battle against Covid-19 is far from over, the strict rules that have prevented us from going outside over the past six weeks have been relaxed, allowing us to begin to resume some remnants of an ordinary routine.

Malls have reopened, as have a number of restaurants and public areas. But, despite the news being very much welcomed across the country, people are not exactly rushing back. The truth is, for many of us, the idea of going back into public spaces right now, especially for luxuries such as eating out or browsing stores, is all a little too much.

If you are feeling anxious about the thought of going back outside, you are not alone. Spending weeks on end at home has wrapped us in a cocoon-like mentality, and while it may have been frustrating at times, many will have come to relish the safety in a way they have never experienced before.

Dr Laila Mahmoud, a specialist psychiatrist and Medcare Hospital Sharjah. Supplied
Dr Laila Mahmoud, a specialist psychiatrist and Medcare Hospital Sharjah. Supplied

“It is very normal to feel anxious and worry during this time of quarantine and this may extend to after the close of lockdown,” says Dr Laila Mahmoud, a specialist psychiatrist at Medcare Hospital Sharjah.

While some people may be ready to get straight back to their usual routines, following the proper precautions of course, others may take more time to ease themselves back in, Dr Mahmoud explains. It’s all dependent on personality type. “Some will still remain anxious [and] overwhelmed, and continue to take the precautions needed by wearing masks, gloves and excessive need for sanitisation,” she says. “Most will still feel anxious in big closed gathering, some will avoid going out to malls, restaurants, closed places unless necessary, but these effects will fade gradually and people will return back to their normal routine.”

We have to reprogramme our minds and change the belief that going outside is bad

And for those who already suffer from anxiety, the urge to stay at home could remain long after they have to, says Asma Hilal Lootah, founder of the The Hundred Wellness Centre in Dubai. "It is so normal to feel this way, especially if you are prone to anxiety and overwhelm," she tells The National. "All of the messages around us have told us that staying home will keep us safe and protect our country, and this belief is now programmed into our subconscious minds."

Of course, things are still far from fully back to normal. Amenities are being phased back gradually, with restaurants and malls operating at 30 per cent capacity, and public areas open for walking with social distancing measures still in place. Even though the outside is there for us, there are still plenty of rules, and plenty of people telling us that it is not fully safe. It is natural to feel like you are not ready to head back out until you have the assurance that they are.

“It is really important to move at the pace that works for you,” says Lootah. “If you don’t feel ready, it is okay to take your time. We need to acknowledge and honour the place we are currently in, question the fear behind our beliefs and stop negative thoughts in their tracks. We have to reprogramme our minds and change the belief that going outside is bad, we must have faith in a power greater than us and remember that we are protected.”

Asma Hilal Lootah, founder of the Hundred Wellness Centre in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Asma Hilal Lootah, founder of the Hundred Wellness Centre in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

Dr Mahmoud suggests some steps people can take if they are feeling anxious about going outside. Firstly, she stresses the importance of acknowledging how you feel, why you feel that way, and reminding yourself that what you are feeling is normal and a lot of people will be going through the same thing.

She also stresses the importance of taking breaks from your phone and negative news, and reminding yourself that the majority of people who catch Covid-19 suffer mild to no symptoms. Finally, she says it is vital to take care of your body by eating balanced meals and exercising regularly.

However, if you find yourself preferring to spend time alone than the thought of socialising with family or friends, feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed regularly, having a low tolerance to voice or getting angry and upset easily, it might be a sign that you are suffering with depression or anxiety disorder. “Stressful situations can trigger anxiety and affect our mental health,” she says. “We are all human and easily affected, but every challenge we face highlights the areas we need to work on as individuals, and there is no reason for this to have a lasting [negative] effect.”

Lootah adds that the easiest way to change our beliefs is to target the subconscious mind, which is most accessible just before we sleep and as soon as we wake up. “Check in with yourself, take a moment and ask yourself how you truly feel,” she says. “Address any negativity or fear-based thoughts and assess them. Are they true? Can you find a solution or an opposing statement that soothes you and makes you feel secure? Once you have found your reassuring statement, extract the affirmation and listen to it while breathing deeply and relaxing. They may include, ‘I am safe’, ‘I am protected’, ‘everything is working out for me’ – it is best to find the affirmations that resonate with you.”

The most important thing to try to remember when you are ready to go outside again is to be grateful for the freedom, and remember how much you missed it when it was not there. “We should ask ourselves, what is the lesson we can learn from this?” Lootah adds. “Take some time to express gratitude and appreciation for all of our blessings and everything that is going well in our lives.”