You may have become extremely cautious about your health since the COVID-19 pandemic began. You may also have gotten used to staying at home and socially distancing yourself from others. But what happens when the lockdown ends and you’re expected to go out into this brave new world?
“It can feel very strange to go outside or return to an old routine,” says psychologist Valérie S. Legendre. “Especially after you’ve been inside or away from people for a long period of time.”
Legendre is the Director of Mental Health Solutions at Sun Life. She notes that studies have indicated an increase in psychological distress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for people who’ve experienced a long period of quarantine.1
After going through a lengthy lockdown, you might feel a rise in fear and anxiety or a loss of confidence when it comes to doing everyday tasks. This can include things like:
- taking public transportation,
- going into the office for work,
- getting into a crowded elevator,
- having face-to-face work meetings,
- leaving your kids at school or daycare, or
- eating out at a restaurant.
“These things could have been difficult to do in the first place,” says Legendre. “And having to return to them after having a sustained break might actually be very challenging.”
So how can we go back to a “normal” routine after months of self-isolation or quarantine? Legendre offers these tips for reducing stress and anxiety as people begin transitioning a new normal
1. Continue the hobbies you started during quarantine
“It helps if you can continue the hobby that you started during lockdown,” says Legendre. So if you started baking, reading, writing, knitting, exercising at home or just about any other pastime – keep at it.
“This way, you can maintain your milestone – even as the world around you continues to change,” she adds. “It’ll also give you an ongoing sense of achievement.”
When you feel like you’ve accomplished something, you’re more likely to have positive emotions and thoughts. This, in turn, can reduce negative emotions that lead to stress.
2. Talk to your employer about coming back to work
Have you been working from home during the pandemic? To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, many employers asked their employees to work from home or telecommute during the pandemic.
But after months of telecommuting, it may feel nerve-wracking to go back into an office setting where you have to interact with several people in-person. “That’s why it’s important to have clear communication from your employer about what returning to work after COVID-19 looks like,” says Legendre.
You may want to ask them:
- Will employees be returning in phases or batches or all at once?
- What safety measures do you plan to put in place as we return to work?
- Will we be able to maintain social (physical) distancing at work? If so, how?
Did you grow comfortable working from home with flexible work hours? Then ask your employer if you can continue to do so on a regular basis.
Or, if you have to come into the office, ask them if you can come in at a specific time. This way, you can avoid packed subway trains and buses during rush hour. Explain to your manager how this can help you slowly ease back into doing everyday tasks.
Talk to your manager or HR department for more information.
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3. Maintain healthy habits and continue to practise good hygiene
By now, we all know the benefits of eating well, getting regular exercise and getting enough sleep. All of which have been known to combat various diseases, reduce stress and boost your mood. So if you’re already doing these things, stick with it. If you found yourself in a bit of a slump during quarantine, that’s OK. You can pick up these habits whenever you’re ready.
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What’s more, this pandemic has probably made you take your hygiene more seriously. Try to continue taking it seriously – even after the pandemic is over. To protect yourself and others from getting sick, be sure to:
- wash your hands regularly with soap and water,
- clean your surroundings (e.g. tables, desks, surfaces) with wipes,
- avoid touching your face with unclean hands, and
- don’t go to work if you feel sick.
4. Listen to information from trusted sources
When the lockdowns begin to lift, the rules for going out and meeting others will likely differ across the nation. During this time, Legendre emphasizes that you must:
- remain cautious of fake news,
- avoid continuously absorbing news that makes you upset and
- look to government sources for accurate information.
Visit your provincial or territorial government’s website. “They can provide information and guidelines on how to properly reintegrate yourself into a post-pandemic world,” says Legendre. “Having clear guidelines can help reduce people’s uncertainties, which will in turn, reduce their anxiety.”
5. Get help when you need it
It’s an emotional time. You may be feeling anxious, frustrated, afraid or concerned. To help you through it, Legendre recommends making connections to get the support you need.
“Talk to a trusted friend or family member about your worries,” she says. “Sometimes just talking to someone can help you feel reassured or relieved.”
She further adds that the good news is people are resilient. “Most of the people who are anxious right now will recover in the weeks, perhaps months, after lockdown restrictions have been lifted,” she says.
But what if you find yourself really struggling with anxiety or depression or another type of psychological distress? Or what if you’ve found this entire quarantine and post-lockdown experience extremely difficult? “Then don’t hesitate to seek professional help,” says Legendre.
Remember, you don’t have to deal with life’s uncertainties and the stress it causes on your own. Here are some mental-health resources to keep in mind:
- Does your workplace benefits come with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? These programs often include free virtual therapy or e-counselling sessions for you and your family. Talk to your employer or HR department for more information.
- Talk to your doctor or a medical professional about mental-health programs or services that are funded by the provincial or federal government. For example, Big White Wall is backed by the Ontario government. They offer free, 24-hour online support and guided courses to help residents manage their mental health.
- Lumino Health’s provider search offers a hub of health resources. It includes a stress and anxiety explorer, information on virtual and home health and access to various health-care providers, including psychologists.
1Hawryluck L, Gold WL, Robinson S, Pogorski S, Galea S, Styra R. SARS control and psychological effects of quarantine, Toronto, Canada. Emerg Infect Dis 2004;10:1206–12.