Kitty Grew, 27, says that during lockdown her anxiety and agoraphobia, which she had largely managed before the pandemic, worsened.

One of the world's strictest lockdowns is lifting, but many are scared to go back to normal life

Updated 0236 GMT (1036 HKT) July 7, 2021

London (CNN)In May, as the United Kingdom began to emerge from one of the world's longest and most stringent lockdowns, Kitty Grew started doing dry-runs of the commute from her home in north London to her office five miles away.

Most evenings now, after logging off and closing her laptop, the 27-year-old unfolds her red Brompton bicycle, puts on her helmet and sets off down a suburban lane of terraced houses toward the city.
"I have been trying to practice, to go out every day and go a bit further and a bit further," said Grew, who works as a project manager for Britain's National Health Service, helping to organize London's Covid-19 vaccination rollout.
These practice runs, which she describes as a kind of exposure therapy, are her way of mentally preparing for a return to the office in August or September -- the date has yet to be decided.
"It's like training to run a marathon," she added.
Before the pandemic, Grew would take the bus or the London Underground to work. But during lockdown her anxiety and agoraphobia, which she had kept at bay before, worsened. Leaving home, even to walk around her neighborhood, became daunting.
The last time she went on the Tube -- now plastered with signs asking passengers to wear masks and maintain social distancing -- was in January 2020.
"When I do go out, to places that are not close to my house, I instantly feel my heart beating harder, my chest feels tight," Grew said. "I just have to get used to it."
As Britain looks to shake off the last of its coronavirus restrictions, despite an ongoing battle to contain a shape-shifting virus that continues to spin off new variants, many Britons such as Grew are finding the idea of returning to the office, taking crowded public transport or grabbing a pint with friends at a busy pub overwhelming, if not terrifying.
"A lot of my friends have sort of adjusted," said Grew. "As soon as things were unlocking they were like, 'I can't wait to go clubbing, I can't wait to go to festivals or go away.' And I'm just like, 'Oh my God, I feel anxious just to go on the bus to my work.'"
"I can't imagine getting on a plane and going to a different country, or even going to a club," said Grew, who has been seeing a therapist to work on coping mechanisms.
England was originally set to mark "freedom day" -- when the final remnants of its lengthy lockdown would end -- on June 21, but the government hit pause until July 19 amid concerns over the Delta virus variant first identified in India, also known as B.1.617.2.
The decision sparked an outcry from some corners of the population desperate to put the pandemic behind them. #ImDone trended on Twitter and British tabloids ran foreboding headlines about the future -- The Sun newspaper asked "Will we ever be free?" beneath the words "Nation's torment" on its front page.
This week, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his plan to shift the focus away from legal requirements to personal responsibility for things such as social distancing and mask wearing.