How to build your confidence post-lockdown

It's not an overstatement to say the COVID-19 pandemic will likely change us for life. Not only have we lost loved ones and faced unprecedented challenges, the outbreak has taken our lives out of our hands - changing the way we work, socialise and go about our daily lives. Unsurprisingly, it has had a significant impact on our confidence and self-esteem too.

Why has the pandemic affected our confidence?

Whether we've been affected by health anxiety, experienced increased work stress or dealt with loneliness in lockdown, the last year has been difficult for us all. The sudden changes and challenges brought by the pandemic have also had a knock-on effect on our self-esteem. Isolation, a loss of control, job insecurity and unhealthy lockdown habits have chipped away at our confidence and self-image, leaving us feeling unsettled.

"One definition of trauma is that our worst fears come true. The pandemic will have been exactly this for many people," says Julie Dearden, psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy. "Amongst other experiences, we have been ill, bereaved, trapped, out of control, without a voice, separated from loved ones and impoverished.

"These traumatic experiences will have, for many of us, deeply disturbed our sense of ourselves, our safety, the relationships we rely upon, our daily routines," explains Dearden. "Without these key senses of safety and balance our very beingness becomes disturbed. Temporarily we may not know who we are and cannot believe in a way forward."

Isolation

The psychological impact of being in quarantine for months should not be underestimated. Being around friends and family can give us confidence and a sense of who we are - and isolation and loneliness can have a serious impact on the way we feel about ourselves.

"By nature we are pack animals so being connected and having a sense of belonging is our natural and healthy way of being," says Counselling Directory member Dee Johnson. "It was inevitable that the sudden detachment from this - from our usual social, familial and daily interactions - was bound to take its toll."

Now, we are faced with stepping back into the world and, although we want to see people, it can still lead to feelings of anxiety. After lockdown, it's easy to worry about interacting with others or to find yourself second-guessing what you're saying or doing.

"The more we have disconnected, the more we might experience not feeling good and worthy enough," says Johnson. "Added to this, loss, bereavement, pressure, anxiety and low mood all drive our self-confidence lower."

Work changes

We've also been living through a period of heightened work anxiety. Changes to work routines, as well as being furloughed, can lead us to question our skills and abilities.

A recent survey of more than 1,000 people found more than one in three workers experienced a loss in confidence after spending time away from work, with women almost twice as likely to be affected as men. Job loss and redundancy are also known to have a devastating impact on our confidence, self-worth and self-esteem.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms

Additionally, pandemic stress has led many people to turn to other no-so-healthy coping mechanisms. Lockdown saw people in the UK eating less fruit and veg, getting less exercise and drinking more alcohol, according to research from the University of East Anglia

According to a separate survey of more than 800 adults, more than half of adults found it difficult to manage their weight, as a result of increased stress. Changes to our bodies can change the way we feel about ourselves, as well trigger anxiety over what others think about our appearance.

How to boost your confidence

If your confidence has taken a hit, there are things you can do to give yourself a boost.

Talk about how you're feeling

"Simply sharing how you are really feeling with people, who are able to listen and honestly share their experience too, can reduce our sense of isolation," Dearden says.

"Developing a sense of recovery, in terms of confidence and self-esteem, will mean returning to some of the things that human beings do instinctively to increase their chances of survival, such as seeking relationships, being amongst others, seeking help, physical connection and a shared sense of our world."

If you speak to friends and family, it's likely they have gone through similar experiences too. Sharing how you feel can help offload some of your worries and make you feel less alone. If you are struggling with your mental health, your GP will be able to advise on the best course of action for you, whether it is counselling, medication or both.

Alternatively, if you think you're depressed, you can refer yourself for a counselling assessment on the NHS via IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies).

Quit the negative self-talk

It's easy to focus on your perceived flaws and to let your inner critic run wild, but it's important not to let it take over. Try to be aware of when you're engaging in negative self-talk, whether it's when you're stuck on a work project or looking in the mirror.

"Speak about yourself in a loving or, at the very least, respectful manner," Johnson advises. "Negative, diminishing, harsh self-talk is harmful and feeds into your low self-esteem. You don't speak to someone you love like that as it hurts and undermines, so why do it to yourself?"

It can help to reflect on how far you have come in the past 18 months. Whether you managed to go for a walk once a day or learned to bake banana bread, little achievements shouldn't be underestimated during these difficult times.

Try a fun exercise class

Going to a new class might seem daunting, but if you find something you enjoy, it can have a positive impact on your confidence and happiness. Exercise is known to increase 'feel-good' endorphins and stimulate the release of mood-regulating chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. And research suggests certain classes, such as Zumba, can have a lasting positive impact on happiness.

"Engaging with your body and movement literally changes your mindset, shifting the trauma memory to being in the present moment. This will help bring back confidence," says Dearden.

Don't rush into things

It's OK to feel a little reticent about socialising, even if you've missed friends and family. Be kind to yourself by going at your pace.

"You are certainly not on your own with this and do not expect to go back to who you were," says Johnson. "We have all experienced change, so try not to keep harking back to pre-pandemic days. Courage is also knowing our limits and being able to say 'no' instead of pleasing people."

Look after yourself

Engaging in self-care is also essential. This can be taking time off, exercising, pampering yourself or making time for hobbies. Not only will it improve your general sense of well-being, it will gradually boost how you see yourself too.

"Schedule in time for this; don't just wing it," says Johnson. "This means you are dedicating time to give some value to yourself."

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