People across the UK are looking forward to life getting back to normal, as the government gradually eases the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. However, the long period of living through a pandemic, since the first lockdown started in March 2020, has left some people dealing with social anxiety.
This condition can manifest itself in many ways, with some being scared to leave their home, frequently cleaning surfaces with anti-bacterial sprays and continually hand washing. Once they pluck up the courage to go out, it can be a truly frightening experience.
© Tero Vesalainen / Shutterstock.com
Social anxiety increases
Government research on the effects of the pandemic on our mental health has revealed a sharp escalation in anxiety levels. The study has examined the public’s reaction to the pandemic and lockdowns. The majority of respondents who said their mental health had been negatively impacted cited high anxiety as the worst symptom.
This was closely followed by loneliness; the impact on their marriage or close relationships due to being “trapped” indoors with loved ones; feeling safer at home; and feeling scared to go into work or other public places, in case Covid-19 was present.
The number of people reporting high levels of anxiety was up from 19% of the population in 2019 to 39% in 2020. People aged 65 years and older were almost twice as likely as young people aged 16 to 24 years to report social anxiety.
The British Heart Foundation has reported similar findings. An article published in May 2021 says even those who have received the vaccine are suffering social anxiety at the thought of going out again. In addition, media reports of the Indian variation of Covid arriving in the UK have heightened people’s fears.
The BHF says while many people are looking forward to seeing family and friends again and getting back to normal activities that we’ve been missing for more than a year, the idea of returning to old routines can also cause stress and anxiety.
The charity is advising people to go at their own pace, deciding on the best way to make the transition from lockdown to going out again. Experts suggest you shouldn’t make any sudden changes if you’re feeling anxious. Instead, gradually add activities back into your routine, at a pace that feels most comfortable.
Retailers and public buildings helping customers
Many businesses, but especially retailers, are trying to help customers cope with social anxiety. They are aiming to help everyone feel safe and welcome when entering the store. Improving your customers’ shopping experience should be paramount during these challenging times.
The common ways of improving customer safety and helping them feel reassured include placing hand sanitising stations at strategic points, such as the entrance; introducing one-way systems to avoid bottlenecks; reducing the capacity of in-store shoppers; and creating contactless payment methods.
Many stores, especially supermarkets and other food retailers, have introduced a “no-touch policy”, encouraging shoppers not to pick up items unless they intend to buy them. Customers are asked to browse with their eyes and not their hands.
Automatic no-touch doors
Another way of reducing the risks of transmission; automatic doors create a hands-free store entrance, which can make a customer feel at ease before entering, as there’s no need to touch door handles that hundreds of other people might have touched already.
In addition, stores are still limiting the number of customers who can enter at any one time to aid social distancing. For many retailers, this has meant introducing the Covid-19 Queue Management System, that uses a “traffic light system” that automatically integrates with an automatic door to control the number of shoppers who can enter at any one time. The Flow Control system is designed to take the strain off employees by enabling social distancing, without staff intervention.
Keeping your retail premises scrupulously clean is still part of the government guidance. Asking staff to clean regularly, in sight of customers, will show shoppers you’re taking steps to help keep them safe.
Using and anti-viral disinfectant spray, regularly wipe down points that staff and customers tend to touch more – such as baskets and trolleys, counters and card machines.
Finally, keep your employees well informed about all the safety measures you’re taking as a retailer. Your team on the shop floor will be the shoppers’ first port of call if they have any concerns or questions. Make sure they can answer them and provide reassurance to help alleviate customers’ fears.