It has been quite a journey. Who knew that when our daily lives underwent an abrupt change in mid-March that we, now staring at mid-August, would still be adjusting to a world with COVID-19.
Personally, when I reflect on this time, I am given hope by the many acts of kindness and respect that I have witnessed…people choosing to wear masks before it became mandatory, the smile and wave from fellow walkers as we cross the street to allow for physical distancing, neighbours running errands for others who are at risk, and front line workers that I know who have gone above and beyond to support those who need their help.
On the other side, while there have been many disheartening stories, for my own mental health, I am choosing to focus on the positive aspects of my fellow humans.
Professionally, if I sum up the last few months, one word would be anxiety.
When COVID first appeared there was the anxiety around fulfilling basic tasks such as getting groceries, PPE and hand sanitizer. Remember the concern about toilet paper shortages? We worried about at-risk friends and relatives who suddenly became isolated. So many of our seniors lost their lives, and anxiety about their circumstances was a constant. Many parents juggled working at home with home-schooling their kids.
For those who lost loved ones, there was the anxiety and altered grief journey due to the inability to be with our person when they died and the changes/restrictions to funeral services.
Eventually, we settled into a ‘new normal’ and our levels of anxiety levelled off as well. And then we hit Stage 1 of reopening.
Anxiety and the Re-opening Process
Slowly we’ve been able to come out of our homes. First, it was increasing our ‘bubble’. Next COVID hair was ‘shorn’ and we could visit on outdoor patios. There have been visits to massage therapists, chiropractors or dentists. And this hasn’t always been easy.
I’ve started to notice that some of us are ‘early adopters’. At each stage of reopening, these are the people who are first in line to experience the newly returned activity–dinner on the patio or inside the restaurant…trips to the spa…going to movies. On the other hand, there are those of us that are slower in venturing out. We want to see what will happen at each new stage of opening. Will the local COVID case numbers increase, decrease or stay the same? Does the mandatory mask-wearing have the desired effect? How will opening up my world affect my ‘bubble’?
It’s not a surprise that moving back into the world is a source of anxiety. For so long we were told to “stay the blazes home!”, keep ourselves and others safe. Now we’re encouraged that all is well and to go out. Some of us can’t make the change that quickly.
The Need for Respect
Whether you’re an early adopter or someone who wants to see the results of opening businesses and services before changing your behaviour, either option is ok. And, it’s important to respect each person’s choices (as long as they are keeping the safety of others in mind when making them).
I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, becoming aware of the stress of the lock-down on relationships. We saw loved ones taking risks that we found to be impossible to understand. Maybe we thought they were being reckless and strongly voiced our opinions. Social media was flooded with messages about the need to be kind. Now we’re in the same boat, but at the opposite end as the world opens up.
How To Cope
I admit that during COVID-19, I have not been an early adopter. Even before the pandemic, I’ve followed a somewhat iterative style of decision making…Let’s try this and see what happens. Let’s get a bit more information before moving on. What’s the plan going forward? I’ve found this to be a useful tactic in times of anxiety.
So, what does this style look like? Basically, just because my area has moved to a new stage, doesn’t mean that I have to. Stubbornly, I find peace in that, as my internal two-year-old stamps her feet saying “I’m the boss of me!” Want to be bossy too?
- Set your own parameters of when you want to move on (while not going ahead of government rules). Maybe the COVID new case numbers have to continue to decline daily for a number of days/weeks before you’ll take advantage of new opportunities.
- Listen to your ‘gut’. What is your own anxiety level telling you about safety? You can learn from this. However, recognize that being afraid to leave your home is not what I’m talking about here.
- If others pressure you to move forward before you are ready, hold your ground. You can let them know that while you respect their choice. . . you are choosing something else and will let them know when you are ready to join them.
- Continue to keep up with your self-care. One of the best ways to cope with anxiety involves eating healthy food, exercise, hobbies…anything that helps to keep you feeling balanced.
Strange Days Ahead
One of the most anxiety-provoking things about living in the time of COVID-19 is all the things that we don’t know. How long will this last? When will there be a vaccine? What about a second wave, potentially mixed with flu season? What is the best decision about sending our kids back to school, and how does that affect COVID numbers? While there is a lot of chatter out there, ultimately, it’s various degrees of informed opinions.
Feeling that we can have some level of control over what we do helps to decrease anxiety. So, at the end of the day, I strive to make decisions with the best information that I can find at the time….balancing hope and preparation.
And now…a story of how one person copes with stress…Enjoy!