• Zoe Williams

fear of freedom day.

Going out into the post lockdown world.

group of friends in a cafe with masks on taking a selfie / fully grown

Shortly after arriving at a campsite in Polzeath, my friend announced that we were meeting a group of her friends at a local bar. So far, I had only dipped my toes in the water when it came to socialising in the post lockdown world. I had been shopping, met small groups of friends and even indulged in my first pub lunch. This, however, would be my first night out in over a year…


I approached it with cautious optimism, enjoying the excitement of getting ready and expecting the usual seated table service. Instead, as we turned the corner and walked up a narrow flight of steps, we entered a fully crowded beach bar, already buzzing with live music, laughter, and dancing. No table service, no masks, no social distancing. I was suddenly taken aback by the situation that I was about to enter. What should have been the momentary thrill of new faces and the spontaneous evening ahead was replaced with a twinge of anxiety and doubt.


We shared a mutual look of, ‘Is this okay?’ before we were waved over to our table and made our way through the crowd. Needless to say, the efforts of the bartenders and their cocktails did much to ease this initial distress. But I couldn’t help wondering if this was the freedom I had really been waiting for. Was it simply a case of first-day jitters? Or had lockdown dulled my desire for nightlife?


To me, lockdown mirrored the feelings of getting into a hot bath. At first, it feels like something of a chore, but then once you’re in, warm and comfortable, you put off getting out for as long as you can. I am sorry to say I am one of those introverted individuals who embraced the solitary months of lockdown. I baked banana bread, exercised more and took up hobbies (as well as a liking for white wine). Studying from home had placed me back into a domestic sphere of life, which, whilst quiet, was undoubtedly comfortable. Somehow, despite the freedom that “going back to normal” promised, I couldn’t help wanting to put it off a little longer…


On talking to friends and fellow students, I soon found I wasn’t the only one. Whilst a majority were naturally looking forward to going out again, a survey I conducted found that people between the ages of 19 and 24 were more inclined to eat out and spend time with friends, than go to nightclubs. While a strong 40% denied any feelings of anxiety towards lifting restrictions, a further 60% expressed feelings of anxiety or uncertainty towards going out.


This mirrored my own experiences of barbecues and house parties; it was mutually agreed that these smaller, more relaxed gatherings had become preferable to busy (and often hazy) nights outs of former times. Many pointed to the ongoing danger of infection and a lack of trust in government as responsible for their apprehension. Even those excited for the reopening of their favourite club considered a concern for their safety (and that of others) a significant drawback.


Yet some, like myself, felt a more enduring impact on how lockdown had affected our behaviour. One respondent commented, ‘I’m not sure if it’s increased my social anxiety a little, or whether that’s just me getting older and more worrisome!’


Was this the case? Had the quiet life of lockdown led us to grow up and leave the social inclinations of our younger selves behind? Certainly, the passing of lockdown had made me feel older, and I couldn’t help begrudging the pandemic for restricting what my early twenties might have been. But on reflection, it seems that confronting us with less lockdown has encouraged us to look for more. Whilst there have been undeniable drawbacks, there has also been a chance to cultivate a more balanced life, as well as a greater understanding of ourselves. Several respondents commented that lockdown had taught them to take less for granted, enjoy time alone, and pay greater attention to their own needs. As one student said, ‘I really think about my time differently and the activities that I choose to do. But at the same time, it taught me that it is okay to say no and stay home.’


Perhaps it’s not a case that we have left our old habits behind but have accumulated new ones. By being reacquainted with ourselves, we have gained a greater perspective on what matters to us. In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my first night out and the spontaneous nature of the nights’ events. But equally, I am more assured in my decisions to spend time alone and prioritise my own interests, without feeling a constant pressure to engage in social activities. As my favourite respondent commented, “Dobby is a free elf!’. In the spirit of that message, I say how we choose to enjoy our freedom is up to us.


tips for socialising post-lockdown.

man in a mask sitting in a cafe on his phone / fully grown

timing.

If you’re still concerned about social distancing, try going out during quiet periods such as weekdays rather than weekends and evenings.


seating.

If you’re concerned about crowded areas, try and opt for outdoor seating and sit away from people you don’t live with if possible.


be clear about your boundaries.

If certain aspects of socialising after lockdown make you anxious, let your friends know. For example, if you’re happy to meet in small groups but would prefer not to hug while meeting, let your friends know in advance.


control what you can.

Start by going out to familiar places you feel comfortable with and continue to adopt safety measures, such as wearing a mask and using hand sanitiser.


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