In the first of a mini-series of wellbeing specials...
Our host Jonny talks about lockdown anxiety with Heather, clinical consultant at Aviva, and Brittani, one of our customer advisors.
On Monday, 19 July it was “Freedom Day” in England. The day when most legal restrictions on social contact were lifted. Social distancing stopped being mandatory, mask-wearing became 'recommended' rather than the rule, and people were encouraged to 'return to the workplace gradually'.
It was a day of celebration for some, but for others it was a major cause of anxiety.
Recorded at the beginning of July, in this episode of the Aviva Podcast Brittani shares her own experience with anxiety and Heather shares some helpful tips and advice on how to deal with it.
"... Coming out of lockdown is very, very daunting for someone like me. It kind of makes me feel all hot and anxious thinking about it, if I'm honest..."
If you're able to, please listen to the audio of the episode. Text alone can miss the emphasis, emotion and nuance that comes from hearing our guests speak.
These podcast transcripts are made using speech recognition software and human transcription and might contain mistakes.
00:00:04 Jonny Monkhouse
Hello and welcome to the Aviva Podcast, and today a wellbeing special. Today’s podcast is with me, Jonny Monkhouse, and Heather Buckeridge, who is one of our clinical leads at Aviva, and Brittani Lee who also works for Aviva as one of our customer service representatives.
It's been a rollercoaster 12-plus months for all of us, and we are now experiencing some easing of restrictions, with full restrictions being removed on the 19th of July.
Well, that's the date as we record this.
Anyway, this is exciting as we'll be able to go out with friends, meals out, trips to the cinema, social gatherings… as well as, for many, going back to the office.
And while this is something to be excited about, it's also quite an anxious thing for many of us. This can give us feelings of anxiety and uncertainty as we move into the new normal. But as I say, we're lucky to have Heather on the podcast today who's going to talk us through some useful coping strategies and support available as we move out of lockdown.
I'm also lucky to be joined by Brittani who has kindly agreed to share her experiences of lockdown and how she is feeling about moving into the new normal.
Can I start by asking you to share your experiences of this, Brittani?
00:01:16 Brittani Lee
Yeah, of course. So, lockdown was obviously a bit of a shock to everyone.
So for me, it’s kind of normal, being stuck in my house. I've suffered with something called panic disorder since the age of 11, so it’s about 13 years I’ve suffered with it now.
With that, it causes severe panic attacks, which is really difficult because you will have people who don't understand. So I've lost friends, unfortunately, because they don't understand and they don't get it.
So as well as having the panic attacks you have got things like that alongside of it. So when lockdown came around, when I was at home all the time, it was kind of normal for me because going out anywhere, going to a pub, drinking alcohol... is kind of daunting to me. It's not something that I tend to do.
But on the other hand, I know people who struggled because they go out every weekend... see their friends constantly... Whereas if I was to see my friends it would be more so at home, more of a ‘safe place’ sort of thing.
But yeah, coming out of lock down as such is very, very daunting for someone like me. It kind of makes me feel all hot and anxious thinking about it if I'm honest, because I'm quite happy being at home and I'm kind of living kind of... how I do. That’s just kind of what I do.
00:02:48 Jonny Monkhouse
Yeah, and how did you find it when we first went into lockdown when it when it first started in March 2020 and then working from home - it all happened so quickly, didn't it?
00:03:00 Brittani Lee
Yeah, so I was extremely anxious because I'm not very good with changes and it was a big change for absolutely everyone in one way or another.
And so I've gone from suffering with anxiety to actually working at Aviva and being around people every day, which is brilliant and really, really helped me.
To that then being kind of taken away from me again, an actually being shut away and it's been over a year.
As much as I love working from home - and it is brilliant - the thought of actually going into the office does make me feel ill. And I'm sure people who haven't even ever suffered with anxiety will feel the same.
And that's the thing. Like it's really important to kind of speak to people, and there's always going to be someone who can relate to the situation that you are in. There are so many more people suffering than we actually know. Because some people choose not to talk about it, which is absolutely fine, but if anything I would like to encourage people to definitely to talk up and get the help that they need.
00:04:01 Jonny Monkhouse
And on that note I’d really like to bring you into the conversation, Heather, and thanks again for joining us today. And would you mind if I just went straight to you and get your input on some of the things Brittani's been talking about?
00:04:12 Heather Buckeridge
Yeah, it's fine. Thank you, Brittani. I know how difficult it is just to express how you feel.
Yes, it's been very difficult. I think the population itself... The statistics show that that anxiety through the most recent transition that we're going through, and we are going through at the moment, is back at the same levels if not greater than it was in March 2020.
So what we are seeing is that the new normal has complexity. Complexity that adds to our every day lives. It adds to every simple task we do, so people who perhaps have never experienced anxiety or feeling anxious about going to the supermarket, putting petrol in your tank, you know walking a dog... I mean all these things that we just did without thinking, now we have to take into account all the little nuances to those: keeping a safe distance, making sure we use the gel if we're going in the supermarket, making sure that we wear the masks at this point in time, all these things have added a level of complexity and with change and complexity comes a feeling of often anxiousness.
And for me, I feel that currently the level of anxiousness is within what I would consider normal. Because for all of us to start to regain control of our lives and not feel a little bit apprehensive, considering that we've been limited in our social interactions, limited in our lifestyles... it would be abnormal.
But then of course at Brittani's level, someone who suffers from anxiety, someone who has a history of perhaps feeling out of control, feeling those pressures, feeling those anxious sort of biological feelings – it will be far greater, because her experience will be of a greater depth of the symptoms that we probably, in the population, are experiencing as part of our lives.
And I think the important thing to remember, is that transitioning back to a normal is going to take time.
It's not like tomorrow, when the floodgates open, we're all going to walk out there and everything is going to be back the way it was.
Every one of us is a unique individual. We all have different experiences of life. We all react differently to change.
So the important thing is to take it step by step. Each person uniquely take it in their own time. Not to be driven, by competing with “well, my friends are out there at the pub. I'm not feeling comfortable.” ... taking each step on your own pathway to what normal is for you.
So I think the importance is not to beat yourself up because you're feeling apprehensive when you go to the supermarket. Or perhaps when they stop wearing masks. If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask.
Finding your own level of comfort is going to be important thing for everyone out there when they start to transition back into what we would consider ‘normality of lifestyle’.
And the most important thing is not to constantly feel the pressure of being the same as everyone else. To take it as yourself and your uniqueness and the importance of that.
Now, as important that as that is, to seek help if you need it. If it gets to a point that it limits your functioning, it limits your interactions. Then get some help.
There's a lot out there, and I think yes, community services are under pressure. But you know a lot of employers have EAP – employee assistance programmes - a lot of employers now have well being programmes like you guys, so those are really important.
GP practises have actually come out come into the technological age and managed to actually formulate good programme so you can access them now!
So there are good charities out there too. You know, Mind is excellent. Offers therapy services. There's some good stuff, so if you need help, get it.
00:08:08 Jonny Monkhouse
Thanks Heather. Something I was going to ask: Someone like Brittani – and there will be many other people who may well be feeling the same – Brittani's now working from home, as many of us are. I guess we kind of almost get into our comfort zone. Say someone does suffer with panic disorder and has panic attacks and likes that way of working, what would you say to people who, as we come out of lockdown and we're now able to return to the office and again, get back into some kind of normality? Would you encourage people to try and get back into that normality, or would you say it's the right thing to potentially continue with that option to work from home? The right thing for that individual?
00:08:48 Heather Buckeridge
If we look at where we were before what we've experienced in this last year, I would hope that people would strive to regain at least a comparable level of their lives. Because I think going into the office, as long as people have discussed with their managers, are comfortable with the safety measures, are aware of the recommendations, are aware of how they have to behave in the office. Because of course there's going to be limitations on people as far as where they sit. You know how they enter the office? As long as they're comfortable with those things, I think that regaining control and a level that would be comparable to where they were would be advisory.
And that's not... as I said, that's not going to happen tomorrow. I mean, our Prime Minister may make changes tomorrow, but we all are going to go through a transitionary phase, and everyone is going to go through it at a different level.
So it's really important with people who have had suffered like Brittani has, to work with whoever she has found has helped her through these scenarios, to work back to that level of independence that she had before lockdown.
00:09:56 Jonny Monkhouse
And then something else I was going to ask as well. If we kind of reflect on the last 12-plus months, what do you think would have been the main struggles for people over the last year? Living through lockdown?
00:10:10 Heather Buckeridge
Ohh that's multi-faceted. I don’t know where to start there to be honest with you!
It depends on... I mean, we've seen difficulty for people to access treatment. I made that sort of a sort of light-hearted talk about GPS, but GP practises had to accommodate a totally different scenario for treating their patients.
The NHS has had to encompass large numbers of individuals suffering from physical condition that is limited access for a number of other people, so community-based services I feel have benefited from – this this is terrible for me to say – but I think they have benefited from the need of the access that's out there, because we have seen a lot of these charities ramp up their service provision for mental health in the community. We've seen a lot of community individuals who weren't involved in charitable institutions getting involved, helping their neighbours, being aware of the elderly being alone, being aware of people who are compromised. Where before we had almost in some ways become very comfortable with our own being and sort of leading our lives without that sort of community spirited base.
So its multifaceted through all the different levels of age as well as treatment needs as well as whether it's general medicine or mental health conditions. So I'm hoping that we will move forward into a greater understanding of the need of community as part of mental health facilities.
00:11:39 Jonny Monkhouse
Thank you and then also this will touch on what Britney's been talking about as well, you know. We've been living and through this pandemic for a long time now and I know for many different reasons people – in the role I do in Aviva, I know people have been apprehensive and almost felt bad even for calling the doctor.
It might be around having a sore throat or anything at all, people have felt that they can't really call their GP’s Surgery because they almost don’t want to bother them because they know how busy everybody is. I guess, you know, what would you say to someone who may really be struggling with their mental health and will be thinking along similar lines, where they don't really feel it would be right to call their GP surgery. What would you say is the best route for someone to seek help if they're struggling?
00:12:26 Heather Buckeridge
I always say that you need to speak to a professional, and I think that your GP practice does have a lot of available facilities out there and services they can access.
So if... and hopefully, I have seen an improvement in what people are saying about the access to GP services. So that would be your first point of call, because you may need something more complicated than just speaking to a therapist.
You may require medication. You may require an in-depth type of therapy that isn't available in the community base, so I think the good point of call is always going to be your GP practice, your GP nurses, or often if you had treatment before you can access the community mental health team directly. So those are the professionals and at that point in time, if the service provision they will adequately recommend what is needed for you to recover or to move towards the next pathway, whether it's accessing treatment through security services or whether it's accessing appropriate medication that may be required.
00:13:30 Brittani Lee
And is there anything that you can kind of recommend to help me in my daily life? Like any apps or anything like that?
00:13:38 Heather Buckeridge
Actually Mind has some brilliant apps, and actually I was funnily enough looking at the NHS service apps and they have a couple of really good apps out there. EAP has an app that's pretty reasonable as well.
You know apps are interesting concepts because we all have a different way of communicating and apps, you have to play with them and find the one that works within your component of how you like to interact on a computer on a phone or whatever. But yes, there are some good apps out there, but I think again it's very individualised and you have to find the right one for you
And mindfulness! Oh my, we were talking about it before the podcast. Breathing techniques are... particularly with panic disorder, anxiety... breathing techniques can make such a difference to times when you're going to feel a little bit out of control or a little bit when the anxiety starts. If you start with a good breathing technique, and there's a few good ones that your practitioner can give you advice on that you can utilise to keep your anxiety under control.
00:14:39 Brittani Lee
Yeah, I use the Headspace app pretty much every day, so if I'm feeling a bit anxious, I'll just put my headphones in and do a couple of... whatever they’re called...
00:14:49 Heather Buckeridge
00:14:50 Brittani Lee
00:14:51 Jonny Monkhouse
Meditation. Yeah, that is good. It's a good series on Netflix now. Have you seen that? That's actually run by Headspace.
00:14:57 Brittani Lee
00:15:01 Heather Buckeridge
Headspace is excellent. It's tried and tried and been around a little bit and it's moderated and it's up to date and it's good. Offers some good services on there.
00:15:12 Jonny Monkhouse
Brilliant. Ah, that’s awesome. Thank you very much. Just to go full circle before we bring this podcast to a close and coming out of lockdown, hopefully those restrictions being removed on the 19th of July, you know again that’s the day as we record this, that’s always subject to change.
But just to summarise, Heather. You know, I guess it's just as much as people can, try and embrace being able to go back out there into the new normal. Whether that’s at social gatherings or work. But would you say the key messages do at your own pace, you don't have to jump into it just because there's a there's a timeline to it?
00:15:50 Heather Buckeridge
Exactly, we're all individuals, and we're going to have different pressures, different needs, different mixed feelings, different experiences. So yes, I mean you know, take it on your own at your own time, on your own pathway.
I mean, as I said, it's all about the uniqueness of who we are and what we experience.
So yes, take it your own way and don't feel pressured to meet the criteria that everybody else is. Your family, your friends, your whoever.
00:16:20 Jonny Monkhouse
Excellent, thank you both so much for joining me today. It's very much appreciated and I'm sure it's going to help so many people who listen to this.
For the people who have listened to this today and have been affected by this, and who would like to know a bit more around support and information available, please check out the show notes for this podcast.
Thank you all very much and take care.
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If you’re experiencing anxiety or otherwise struggling with your own mental health, then there are resources available:
NHS mental health services: www.nhs.uk/mental-health/nhs-voluntary-charity-services/nhs-services/
Mind, the mental health charity: www.mind.org.uk/information-support/
The Samaritans: www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/
If you’re outside the UK then please look up what other resources are available to you locally. Don’t struggle alone.