Emerging from lockdown – guidance for shielding patients and families

17 July 2020

The government has recently relaxed shielding guidelines for patients who are considered ‘highly vulnerable’ and their families. Whilst many have welcomed this change after a difficult period of isolation, others are feeling anxious about what these changes will mean for them. 

Everyone's experience will be different depending on their circumstances, but after months of careful shielding it's natural to feel some concern about reemerging to the 'new normal'. Returning to the community, attending work or school, reconnecting with friends and family members, reestablishing old habits and routines –all these things can feel fraught with uncertainty. We've provided some guidance to help you manage the transition.

What feelings can you expect?

It's natural to experience a mix of emotions as you begin to think about returning to society. You might feel: 

  • Nervous, anxious or upset
  • Uncertain and confused 
  • A feeling of being detached, unable to concentrate or focus on things
  • Hypervigilant – a sense that you are ‘on guard’ all the time 
  • Angry or impatient – e.g. feeling like things are being poorly managed, or that others are not following rules properly 
  • Unprepared – a sense that you’re not ‘doing it right’, or that you might ‘get it wrong’

These are all natural responses to situations of uncertainty and change. You may not always be consciously aware of these emotions, but instead might experience them as a feeling in your body. For example, you might notice that you have an uncomfortable feeling in your tummy, that feel tense, that you're unable to settle and find yourself fidgeting a lot, or that you have a lot of nervous energy. This is also true for your family, including members who may be non-verbal and unable to describe how they feel. 

How can I manage my feelings? 

Be patient with yourself and others, and recognise that the way you are feeling is a normal reaction to this sort of change. After months of being told you're at risk of infection, 'lowering your guard' is not an easy adjustment to make! There is bound to be a lot of uncertainty.

Remember you have control in this situation, even though you might feel as if you don't. You are actively doing things to keep you and your family safe and well. Whether it's wearing a mask in busy places, avoiding crowded areas or washing your hands regularly, you're not just a passive observer – you have 'agency'. Remembering this will help you to feel more in control and empowered. 

Use positive affirmations to motivate yourself, calm yourself and remind yourself that you have control. It can be particularly effective to do this before you leave your home. Stop, breath, and connect with your physical self in the moment. Tell yourself: 

  • I can do this. I'm going to be OK. 
  • I might be feeling anxious, but it will pass
  • It’s OK to feel this way – this is a normal reaction
  • I'm in control. I've got this.
  • I can learn from this, it will get easier

Make changes at a pace that's right for you. Try not to feel pressured to 'get back to normal' immediately. Where possible, allow yourself time to adjust at a pace that's right for you. Everyone's circumstances are different, and we all deal with change in our own way.

For example, if it doesn't feel right for you or your family to leave the house right away, then it's OK to wait a few days until it feels easier. Choose a time when it's going to cause the least stress for you, and when you feel safe to do so. Don't beat yourself up if you can't make the jump immediately. 

Remember you're not alone. If you find yourself struggling, it can help to remember that millions of others who have been shielding will also be finding this difficult. Allow yourself to reach out to friends and family if you need to share how you're feeling. If you need practical help or you're unclear about what to do, then your local council, health services, charities (including The Lily Foundation), community centres and numerous voluntary organisations are all there to offer support.

Need support?

Lily Helpline - 0300 400 1234

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