Thursday 23 July 2020

Visiting Restaurants in a Pandemic When You Have Anxiety

I don't know about you, but this whole pandemic has really been feeding my anxiety. I've had a lot of moments where I have been feeling quite agoraphobic. Which I haven't felt in quite a few years. In the height of my mental health problems I often felt scared to leave the house, and I had to use public transport a lot which would also set off the feeling trapped part of agoraphobia. I have only left the house when necessary; for work or essential errands. Even then I'd wear a mask and take my hand sanitiser everywhere, and would start to get panicky feelings when someone got too close. Most of the shops I have been in were quick in and out jobs. That is until I had to queue in Wilko's and the system wasn't very clear, a few customers nearly got into an argument over it. That feeling of knowing that people were behind me and too close had me on edge. The queue was going down an aisle, and I started to feel nervous if customers wanted to get to the products next to me. It also didn't help that when I was walking round the shop, the staff didn't seem to care if you were there or not. When I'm wearing a mask it makes me really claustrophobic because it can feel like my breathing's restricted, but it's not. I wear one to protect myself and others, and would rather deal with feeling uncomfortable for a few moments than risk catching or spreading Covid-19.

I know that shops and restaurants have to open up so that people can keep jobs and the economy can keep going, but going to them just terrifies me. I've seen the lack of social distancing and lack of common sense from some of the public. We've all spent three to four months mainly confined to our homes with the same people. I found it really jarring when I could meet up with my friends and family members, because it felt kind of weird. At least in shops and socialising there's usually an easy exit. I just feel like in pubs and restaurants it might not be that easy. I don't want to be in a busy environment. I don't want to feel trapped.

As much as I miss "normality" and going out for food and drinks, I'd rather be cautious about returning to that way of life. To me, nothing about this is normal. This is a whole new world for most of us, and it's better to be safe than sorry. I have made myself relax to a certain extent, to test the water and visit a few places and thought I'd write about my experiences here for you.

My first mini trip out was to Whiteley, Fareham where my other half and I had a meeting at Starbucks (we sat outside), and afterwards we were a bit peckish and stopped by Five Guys. We love their burgers and fries, we usually only have this as an every now and then treat, as we don't indulge in a lot of takeaway food. Whiteley have tried to limit the amount of people visiting their shopping centre by closing off some of the car parks. It was really quiet walking around, and they had a pedestrian traffic system, by keeping customers to the left and having barriers in the middle of the walkway. There were only a few small groups of customers in Five Guys and plenty of spread out seating, we decided it would be ok to sit in as it would be quick. We sat in a booth near an open door so it felt nice and open. I didn't feel worried about sitting inside at all, and the staff were really friendly. Usually at Five Guys, you order at the counter and wait for your number to be called further along the counter. This time however, they gave you a number placeholder to take to your table and brought your order to you, whether you were taking away or sitting in to stop people gathering in the same spot.

Our second trip out was for a nice cheeky lunch meal, we walked from Fareham to Portchester to visit the Salt Cafe as I had heard so much about it online. Unfortunately, it was really busy with their outside seating and I felt uncomfortable being so close to other customers. They had also stopped serving lunch when we got there so we looked for somewhere else nearby for some pub grub. The Wicor Mill was only just up the road, and we had never been there before. When we walked in we were greeted by a member of staff and asked if we had booked, we hadn't but that was fine as there were plenty of tables at that time of day. They took our details for the track and trace of Covid-19 and showed us to an outside table, which was more than 2 metres away from the next tables; perfect. You could either order through the app or order at the bar and the staff bring your food and drinks to you. For some reason the app wasn't working for us so we had to order at the bar, but that wasn't an issue as I said before, it was quiet.

It was a much needed little treat out, and so great to have a couple of pints and enjoy the sunshine. We are both so busy at the moment juggling work and a few other projects, so it was nice to take some time out and get out of the house. We both had steak and melted cheese ciabattas and shared a little portion of chips, it was a gorgeous little lunch meal.

Last but not least, my friend and I had been having some coffee dates at CrumbleJack down Fareham high street. Before lockdown this was one of my favourite places to have avocado and egg on toast, I have no idea what they do to it, but it's so damn delicious. At our first coffee meet up we were able to sit outside (you can see a pattern here) and it was really comfortable. Next time we thought we'd have a bite to eat, and we indulged in their masterpiece. They had perspex screens by the tills and brought food and drinks to the table, and had a little hand sanitiser station as you walk in the coffee shop.

Even though I've only been out a handful of times eating and drinking out, I've been fairly happy with those experiences. A lot of my friends have had successful trips to pubs and restaurants and it's good to hear people enjoying themselves again. I'm just not ready to be sat inside a busy pub or restaurant yet, but I'm getting there.

My advice to you if you haven't been out yet, and are feeling apprehensive is to research the places you want to go to first. I find it helpful to read about how the businesses have altered their establishments to make them safe for customers, and if they have photos of these then that's a bonus. If that doesn't make you feel calmer, then why not pop them a message or call them up? Most independent businesses will get back to you really quickly. If that also doesn't work, just be cautious and have a look from outside when you go to visit. You don't have to commit to staying there if you have walked in and gotten a table, you have the choice to leave if you're uncomfortable. If you do book a table and change your mind before going, please contact the business to let them know so then they can give the table to someone else. I've seen a few posts going around social media where restaurants have lost out on money because people didn't cancel their booking.

Have you been out to any pubs and restaurants yet? Pop me a message in the comments, I'd love to hear about your experiences!

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