"I don't feel ready for restrictions to end, and I don't know why" 2 months ago

"I don't feel ready for restrictions to end, and I don't know why"

October 22 - Ireland's Freedom Day.

But people aren't really calling it that. Contrary to the furore of countdowns, celebrations and figurative firework displays that occurred when the UK was presented with its end-of-Covid-restrictions-date, here at home, things seem a little more tentative.

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Vaccine uptake depending, near to all of the country's restrictions are due to be lifted on October 22 - and with them comes the reopening of night clubs, the return of full capacity events, and the retirement of the vaccine pass (unless you're travelling abroad).

Although many people may be worried that an end to restrictions won't come at all, others are concerned, well, that it will.

An end to Covid measures is for many an objectively positive prospect, but for some, the possibility isn't so rousing. Concerns around large crowds, public transport, and a return to 'normality' after a year and a half respite are rife, with many expressing worries about what's to come once restrictions are over.

Sarah*, 29, says that while she's glad Ireland finally had a succinct roadmap out of Covid measures, she's not exactly dying to get back to the club - rather, as a woman who struggles with anxiety, she's not dying to go anywhere.

"It's almost like I'm content in this middle space where we can still see our loved ones, hug our families, and anything beyond that feels like too much. I want the events industry to open up, I felt that frustration every day on social media, but a total lift of restrictions terrifies me. I'm struggling to pinpoint why.

"This past year and a half I've been dying for lockdowns to lift, there were times when I was like 'I genuinely can't stand another Zoom drinks.' But I suppose I also had so much control over my life then, I knew what I was doing day after day and even though it was boring, it was set. And as someone with anxiety, control is welcome."

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This new sense of control during lockdown is nothing new. As early as April 2020, studies were conducted concerning the coping strategies of those who struggle with their mental health and those who don't.

Early results showed that while the initial shock of the pandemic led to a spike in anxiety and fear, as the weeks and months progressed, many people reported higher levels of mental wellness.

What's more is that for some, the severity of the pandemic actually made them feel calmer about the things they were worried about. One woman with generalised anxiety disorder told Forbes last year that usually “a person perseverates on fears that aren't real, and then worries about the anxiety they have about those fears, so you get a never-ending spiral.”

Whereas, when the world shut down, "the actions associated with those fears are legitimate and socially acceptable [and] the spiral never happens.”

Following Taoiseach Micháel Martin's confirmation that restrictions were indeed set to lift on a phased basis over the next few months, the relief from many groups was palpable. Music venues finally had a reopening date, theatres could increase their capacity, next to every single comment on an Instagram post we shared about the clubs reopening saw people tagging their friends, planning their next Big Night Out.

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But where there is excitement, there is also worry. Where there is empathy for sectors who have struggled tenfold, there is concern. Where there is hope, there is still fear.

A recent poll conducted among a portion of the Her Instagram audience (9,000 users) showed that a considerable 43% of people are not feeling good about restrictions being lifted totally next month.

Their reasons varied from living with an underlying illness, to being fearful that mask wearing would become a thing of the past, to worries around a return to total lockdown for Christmas again.

One user said that "people act irresponsibly without [restrictions]", while another added "hospitals are going to be hit badly as we come into winter." Another said their mother has cancer "and while we're all vaccinated it still scares me."

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Another user said that lockdown had "turned [them] into an introvert, while someone else said they simply didn't want to go back to the office. Another pointed out that it was difficult to feel relief when maternity wards were still "separating women and their partners." 

Last year, CEO of Mental Health Ireland Martin Rogan told Her that during 2020, most people used up their mental wellness reserves in dealing with the pandemic, so it would make sense that this depletion has, for some, carried into the eventually easing of restrictions too.

He said at the time: "If you’re told you’re going to be stuck in a cave for three weeks with a box of candles, you’ll light all of those candles over that three week period. But if you knew it was going be a year, you’d use those candles differently. And now we’re literally burning our candles at both ends. No one can sustain that."

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For many people, the candle has indeed been burning at both ends for over 18 months. While a total end to restrictions will undoubtedly bring joy, excitement, and relief to thousands, there are those who still feel like it's too much, too soon.

For Sarah, it's that impending anxiety of being 'normal' again, coupled with the frustration of feeling like she should be happy.

"I don't feel ready for it to end and I don't know why," she says. "I can't put it into words, but I know I feel guilty for feeling this way.

"I feel like an a***hole because this is what we've waited for for so long. This is what the hospitality, arts, and entertainment industries have been pushing for. I just don't feel the relief I thought I would."

*Some names have been changed.