Beware the false utopia of post-pandemic life, expert warns

Post-lockdown life WON’T be as rosy as you think: Experts warn against hoping for ‘normality’ because friendships have shifted and values have changed over lockdown

  • Dr Lorna Bourke is principal lecturer in psychology at Liverpool Hope University
  • Warns friendship groups are likely to have shifted dramatically during lockdown
  • Says potential for family feuds to be reignited once we all ‘get back to normal’
  • Mundane realities of returning to the workplace may hit some Britons hard 

Beware the ‘false utopia’ of post-pandemic Britain – because pinning your hopes of happiness on restrictions being lifted could set you up for a mental health fall.

That’s according to one concerned academic, who fears the excitement of returning to ‘normality’ could soon collapse if expectations are too high.

Dr Lorna Bourke, principal lecturer in psychology at Liverpool Hope University, says friendship groups are likely to have shifted dramatically during lockdown, leading to new tensions when groups meet up once more.

There’s also the potential for family feuds to be reignited, while the mundane realities of returning to the workplace hits home.

She is urging people to temper their expectations so they’re not hit hard by disappointment – and admits she expects many to struggle with wellbeing issues later this year.

Beware the ‘false utopia’ of post-pandemic Britain – because pinning your hopes of happiness on restrictions being lifted could set you up for a mental health fall (stock image)

Dr Bourke, an expert in cognitive and developmental psychology, tells FEMAIL: ‘This really is about “expectation vs reality”.

‘If your life wasn’t making you happy before the pandemic, the same complex troubles and concerns will be there once more when restrictions are lifted.

‘For me the danger is in mentally building an imaginary, post-pandemic false utopia. 

‘Many could fall into the trap of setting unrealistic expectations for all the things they’re going to do, all the connections they’re going to make, and how they’re going to spend lots of time with friends and family.

Dr Bourke says when people have to start commuting to workplaces once again they might start to actually look back and crave the simpler life they enjoyed in lockdown (stock image)

‘But as we all know, things don’t tend to pan out that way. It’s wise to really temper expectations and be aware that, even with restrictions lifted, you’ll face plenty of bumps on the road back to normality.’

Protect yourself from pitfalls of ‘false utopia’

Dr Bourke recommends playing the long game: ‘The way to protect against future frustration is to not think of the rest of the year in terms of “getting back to normal”. It’s going to take a long time and there will be setbacks along the way.

‘Think of it in terms of baby steps. When you’re really rushing for the family hugs, the parties with friends, and for the overall connected-ness, you still need to think about what happens beyond this point.

‘A good example is the excitement people might be feeling this month about being able to meet up with a friend on a park bench and share a cup of tea, thanks to restrictions being partially lifted. How exciting would that have sounded two years ago? Not very, I’d argue. And you need to be prepared for things to be less exciting than you might imagine now, otherwise you’re potentially setting yourself up for a fall.’ 

Dr Bourke says some relationships might need to be ‘renegotiated’ entirely. 

She adds: ‘Whenever there’s a crisis, there’s usually a reassessment or re-evaluation of values and beliefs. 

‘We’ve all been forced into thinking about what really matters to us. We’ll likely see big shifts in these values and beliefs across a number of areas. 

‘You might well have fundamentally changed as a person. Your friends and family may also have done the same.

‘If the quality of these social networks has changed, or the dynamic has altered, then you’re going to have to either renegotiate relationships – or look elsewhere.’

Meanwhile Dr Bourke also warns about the ‘rush’ to return to society – particularly when it comes to the working week.

She explains: ‘While for some people their quality of life depends on their social networks, we need to bear in mind that others like a solitary lifestyle.

‘When people have to start commuting to workplaces once again they might start to actually look back and crave the simpler life they enjoyed in lockdown.

‘And you might have a situation where people rush headlong into this brave new world and then want to retreat back into their protective spaces. 

‘That might not be good in the long run. 

‘If you do feel like you do want to retreat and take a step back, mentally, ask yourself what you find overwhelming and see if you can’t rationalise it.

‘It may be that you’re too concerned with the big picture, worrying about too many people, when you need to focus on what’s going on in the here and now.

‘Then it’s about reaching out to people and talking about how you’re feeling. 

‘After all, a disconnect and withdrawal from society is a classic sign of depression and anxiety.’ 

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