efore lockdown, I had a strict weekday routine. Wake up at 5:30am, put on the outfit I’d prepared the night before, wash, go to work. After I’d finished for the day, I’d go to the gym for an hour. Then I’d rush across town to meet a friend, and try to pretend I wasn’t exhausted as we caught up over a bottle of wine. Around 9:30pm I’d make an excuse to leave, explaining that I had to get up “super early” for work. The friend would tell me I can sleep when I’m dead; so I would stay later and later.
Then the pandemic came along and pressed pause on everything. At first, I felt adrift without a calendar packed with dinners, drinks and parties, most of which I would have committed to weeks prior. But as days of lockdown turned into weeks, I started to feel a weight had been lifted. I would finish work and go for a walk. Sometimes I’d phone a friend or listen to a podcast, sometimes I’d do nothing at all.
I’d become so good at overbooking myself. I said yes to every plan, and if an empty week was approaching, I’d fill it – it wasn’t unheard of to do a workout, drink with a colleague, dinner with mum and phone call with a friend in one night. For a while, it worked. And I rattled along like a steam train with unlimited fuel. But in lockdown I’ve started to realise I was running myself into the ground. Catching colds and despairing at the sight of my skin, I could see the effects of the lifestyle I was choosing.
The effects weren’t only physical – I often felt riddled with guilt for not being 100 per cent mentally committed to a plan. Flakiness is a trait I hate in others and so I made a promise to myself that I would not be a flake. Of course, this means I frequently wound up going to meet friends when I would have rather been anywhere else. And they could tell. I’d sit in silence all night, staring vacantly at the menu.
Or on the rare occasions when I did cancel, I’d feel so ashamed that as soon as I sent the text, I’d turn my phone off, hide it under my bed and not look at it for an hour in fear of being chastised. I could never just say, “I’m so sorry, I’m shattered from work”. Or, “actually I’m just not the mood anymore”. There always had to be a solid excuse, like I was working late or had developed an illness. Neither would ever be true.
But that’s all changed now. Lockdown has forced me and many others to live in the moment. None of us know what the next few weeks will bring, whether we’ll be put back into full lockdown or how a second wave might impact us. So we become spontaneous planners. Instead of dragging ourselves to things we booked weeks ago, it’s about how we feel at that exact time. Am I too tired to exercise today? Am I too worn out to call a friend for a coffee?
The difficulty is that lockdown gave people like me the perfect excuse to say no to plans. But now that restrictions are lifting, and people are eager to return to normality, those excuses will slowly dissipate. And we’ll be forced to, dare I say, actually be honest with our friends when we don’t want to do something. I’m not the only one who feels anxious about that.
According to a survey of 2,058 Britons conducted by relationships charity Relate, 45 per cent of people have said they liked not having to worry about social plans when the UK was in full lockdown in March, April and May. Meanwhile, 40 per cent of people said they were feeling worried about socialising again. The research also found that many young people are dreading the return of Fomo (fear of missing out), with 36 per cent of those aged 16 to 34 saying just that.
“Now that we are beginning to enjoy a relaxation in lockdown rules, challenges emerge about how we will navigate our new social world,” explains consultant psychologist Marc Hekster of The Summit Clinic. “Fomo is a socially constructed presentation of anxiety that was crucially linked to the pre-Covid-19 world. But in lockdown, there has been no need for FOMO because there was nothing to miss.” That said, now that we’ve all enjoyed this period of isolation with no plans, many people, myself included, may feel more empowered to say no to things we would have otherwise felt obligated to attend.
“Whether there will be any lasting change in our behaviour around Fomo may depend on how the pandemic unfolds. The more enduring the required change in our behaviours is, the more likely it is that they will stick. How we socialise may be changing in front of our eyes,” he says.
I still don’t know if I’ll feel comfortable telling my friends that I simply don’t feel like going to the dinner we’d been planning for weeks because I’ve had a rough day, or because I feel emotionally drained. But I will start saying no to things so that I don’t end up as overloaded as I was pre-lockdown.