OPINION: Don't panic as restrictions ease, do things at your own pace

Still of Clive Dunn playing Corporal Jones, taken from a previously missing episode of the televisi

Clive Dunn playing Corporal Jones in Dad's Army. Christine says there is no point in panicking about things as the world begins to open up again - Credit: PA

One of the most useful facts I learned when I trained as a psychotherapist was that only eight per cent of what makes us anxious is worth worrying about. This is a very helpful piece of information to remember – especially at the moment when lots of people have got simmering anxiety.

Let me tell you about a friend I’m going to call Jane, who’s a sensible and lovely woman in her 50s.

Recently, her sister, who lives 65 miles from her, emailed with an invitation to supper. She said that both children were home from university and would love to see their aunt – so why didn’t Jane come over, stay the night and enjoy the sort of family evening that was long overdue.

Like many of us, Jane had really missed face-to-face contact with her family for the past 16 months, and yet this message filled her with terror.

"Honestly," she told me on the phone later, "I was like Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army. I was jumping up and down. In fact, I think I even shouted at myself, 'Don’t Panic!' I knew I was being ridiculous but couldn’t seem to help myself. A large part of me wanted to visit my sister and niece and nephew, but even so, I was unbelievably nervous."

She went on to describe the fears that flooded her mind. Earlier that day she had read an article about the broadcaster Andrew Marr catching Covid at the G7 conference in Cornwall despite having had both vaccinations.

"It certainly affected me," she said.

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But that was just a start. She found herself thinking of all sorts of dire consequences of meeting up and simply couldn’t stop her feelings of dread, or her negative thoughts.

What if her niece and nephew had returned from their university cities carrying the virus? What if her sister, a schoolteacher, had been exposed to it?

Perhaps she could go but not stay the night. Did that feel safer? She wasn’t sure.

And of course, then there was the question of driving. If supper was at seven, she was unlikely to be able to leave till ten, and then she would be motoring back in the dark.

And the fact was that her car had rarely been out of the garage since the beginning of the pandemic. She tried to reason with herself about her competence and confidence as a driver but began to believe that during all the lockdowns, her usual skills must have deserted her.

And what if, she wondered, there was a thunderstorm on her way back. That could be dangerous. Was it worth risking life and limb just to see her relatives?

At this point, Jane had the good sense to realise that she was getting into a complete pickle, so she took a series of deep breaths and decided not to reply to her sister till the morning.

Then, she poured herself a gin and tonic and found an old comedy on iPlayer to distract her mind from the problem.

The next morning, she went for a walk to clear her head, before phoning her sister. She was frank about her panic, which they talked about, and together they came up with a solution which was to keep things simple for this initial meeting until they got more used to the easing of restrictions.

They elected to go for a Saturday lunchtime when her sister’s children would be busy with their jobs at the local pub. And they decided too that it would be better for Jane to drive home afterwards.

On the day, everything was relaxed, and lunch went on long into the afternoon with both sisters laughing more than they had in ages. Jane stayed much longer than she had anticipated and even hugged her sibling when she left, though she had insisted on bumping elbows on arrival.

The journey home went fine, and she enjoyed it, but then felt strangely stupid about having got in such a tizz.

Does any of this sound like you? I know masses of people are going through similar agonies. We want to do things that were once normal but are new to us now. But much of the time we find we’re dreading them too. It’s going to take a while to adjust, and we have to accept that.

However, when we go into a cycle of saying ‘what if’ about a whole variety of possibilities, it can quickly lead to panic.

‘What ifs’, by the way, are meat and drink to novelists.

They take writers down unusual paths and create amazing scenarios.

But in almost every other situation they’re a total pain!

They mess with our heads, so do try to avoid them.

And next time you’re in a flat spin about some situation or another, breathe deeply and remind yourself that only eight percent of your anxieties are worth worrying about.

It won’t be a magical solution, but it could help a bit!