How to stop Freedom Day from making us even more divided

Sound the party horns, Freedom Day is finally here.

While it’s exciting that our pre-pandemic lifestyles are gradually returning, there’s still a lot of anxiety around restrictions lifting. 

There’s also the issue of responsibility.

Now rules have been scrapped, it’s down to us to decide what we want to do to stay safe – whether it’s choosing to still wear a mask, keep our distance from people or decline incredibly busy events. 

Some people will, some people won’t – and this is where divisions and conflicts start to arise.

Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder and co-CEO of My Online Therapy, tells ‘There are government guidelines and then there’s our individual choice of what we feel safe or want to do – and what we don’t. It’s understandable that it may take time for some people to feel safe in the world again – especially with infection rates still rising. 

‘But, for others, lockdown has been incredibly difficult and the easing of restrictions is a lifeline. This inevitably creates tension that may lead to arguments and conflict.’

Tess Leigh-Phillips, a counsellor at The Mind Map, agrees that these conflicts could arise because we are now free to decide how we approach the risks.

She says: ‘When we are all operating under one set of rules, of course there will be some who will rebel, but generally, there is a comforting sense that we are “all in it together.” Any issues we have can be directed at the government.

‘But, post-July 19 the distribution of blame is somewhat problematic.

‘This is not a one size fits all situation. We all have differing priorities, assessments of risk, health, knowledge and anxiety levels. 

‘Some want to get on with life, despite any perceived risk. Some feel the risk is suitably minimised. Others are still fearful of the health dangers. The situation is complex and ever-changing.’

So how do we approach these differences of opinion that are likely to arise? And how do we ensure we don’t become even more divided?

Be respectful

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we all should all appreciate each other a bit more – and that means different outlooks, too.

Mindset coach Rebecca Lockwood says: ‘We all have different opinions so it is important to respect other people’s models of the world – even though they may want to act differently to you. 

‘It can be difficult to accept this when you have such strong beliefs about something. However, it is really important to remember that we all have a different idea of the world and we need to respect other people’s just as we would expect people to respect ours.’

The past year has been a whirlwind of emotions, and it’s impacted us all in different ways. As a result, we’ll have different coping mechanisms and attitudes to risk.

So this is something to bear in mind too. 

Dr Elena adds that it’s important to be respectful of other people’s boundaries. 

She says: ‘Everyone will go at their own pace. If tensions feel like they might spill over into conflict, ask yourself: is it worth the argument? If you decide to bite your tongue, deep breathing exercises can help to release any tension you may be feeling.’

Communicate with people

Not everyone will feel the exact same as you, so it’s crucial not to assume anything.

Tess adds: ‘That means checking with someone how they feel about hugging before you throw your arms around them. 

‘Not getting annoyed because your friend doesn’t fancy a busy coffee shop. Not glaring at the person who isn’t wearing a mask.

‘If you come wholeheartedly down on the mask-free, gig going, “Covid is over” side, then just remember for some it still isn’t – and give strangers some space.’

Tess also stresses that it’s vital not to force your freedom upon anyone. 

She adds: ‘Your freedom might be terrifying for them. They may have struggled with their mental health, lost a loved one or been ill themselves.’

Don’t be quick to judge

Whether you’re for Freedom Day or against it, try to be more open-minded and think of people in different situations.

Tess says: ‘For those who frown upon Freedom Day, again – simply remembering that for others the need to get on with life is paramount. They too may have struggled with the isolation, with not being able to work and so on. If we can all show some empathy while we go about our own business then that may go some way to assuaging conflict and divide.’

A good way to cope with uncomfortable feelings that may arise from differences of opinion, is to practice imagining different points of view. 

Tess adds: ‘Practice being more open-minded. Mindfulness and meditation can help with this.’

Pick your battles

‘The reality is none of us are experts on Covid, but we are experts on ourselves – so my advice is to do what feels right for you and, if you can, pick your battles when it comes to differing opinions with family and friends,’ says coach and mentor Natalie Trice. 

She adds: ‘I am pretty sure that there will be divides and arguments for some time to come. But before you wade in, just have a think about whether it’s worth falling out with your dad, or having a shouting match with your bestie because your opinions are conflicted. 

‘You might not like the way they are doing things, but how you react to that behaviour is the one thing you can control about the situation.’

Cut down on social media use

Another good way to avoid conflict is to limit any sources that might cause it – such as social media.

Natalie adds: ‘One way you can really bring down your emotions, and help stop the divides, is to look at your social media consumption – as comments and posts at the moment can be triggering. 

‘Yes, cases are skyrocketing, we are seeing hospital admissions rise and yet the rules are being relaxed, and when you are scrolling through your feeds and this information is hitting you faster than the current heatwave, it’s no wonder tempers are becoming frayed. 

‘Decide what media you want to consume, who you want to follow and what accounts or people you can mute for a while – so you aren’t constantly battling the world, as well as Covid.’

Try the Golden Circle coping technique:

Business coach and mentor Iveta Zaklasnikova recommends trying the Golden Circle coping technique when you’re out and about.

She tells ‘Imagine, that you’ve got a golden circle around you. It’s about one meter or so wide and it’s nicely glowing.

‘Wherever you go – to a cafe, work, tube – it doesn’t matter, the Golden Circle is around you.

‘Now, what’s inside of the Golden Circle is the business you care about. So if someone starts to cough right into your face you have a problem and you act.

‘But what’s outside – you don’t give a damn. You choose not to engage with it. Yes, you’ve got the power to do so.’

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