Back to ‘normal’: How to handle anxiety as COVID-19 restrictions ease

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle
restrictions easing anxiety graphic
Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish via Canva.

With the province gearing up for a return to normal, many people are feeling anxious about returning to socializing. This is normal and completely understandable. After all, new COVID-19 cases are still being reported daily.

As we transition into our post-pandemic reality, these anxieties will likely ease. But for the time being, there are some tools that may help you cope with our current social reality. 

Loosen personal restrictions on your own schedule

Just because the province will be lifting restrictions on September 7 doesn’t mean you have to. It is completely okay to take things at your own pace and gradually transition out of an isolation-induced hibernation. 

Anxiety Canada says to treat anxiety like a high jump bar. Set low expectations to help build your confidence as you surpass them. They suggest writing out a fear ladder with activities that give you anxiety and work your way up.

Whether or not you attend or host social gatherings may depend on your comfort level. Don’t feel pressure to go to every event now that you can. Conversely, don’t feel guilty about attending events with the easing of restrictions.

“The thought of coming back together, some people it will not affect at all,” Dawn Schell, Uvic’s manager of mental health outreach and training, told the Martlet. “But there’s certainly a portion of people [for whom] this has really worked for them to not have to be around people.”

Schell says that it is also important to continue following safety measures and to respect others’ comfort levels. Wearing a mask or staying home when you feel under the weather are good ideas for keeping everyone safe and comfortable.

While many people are ready to take off on a trip, others may not be. It may be beneficial to start with a small trip to somewhere on Vancouver Island. Don’t feel like you have to go to a far-off destination — there are lots of places to visit either in British Columbia or across Canada. You can also take a staycation and visit one of the many attractions in and around Victoria.

Recognize that you are not alone

If social anxiety is what you are most stressed about, then remember: there are other people that feel the same way. A recent Ipsos poll showed that over 50 per cent of Canadians are anxious about returning to social situations. Personally, I know my social skills have deteriorated over the last year.

Social anxiety is also disproportionately affecting young people. A Leger poll found that 68 per cent of respondents between the age of 18-24 are suffering from some level of anxiety.

So when you go out to an event or to see friends remember that you are likely not the only one feeling anxious. If you feel overwhelmed, take things slow. Expand your social circle gradually. You could start with a small circle of close friends and then move to backyard BBQ. 

In returning to work or the classroom, try to keep in mind that we are all figuring out this new normal together.

Seek extra support

Taking care of your mental health is important and seeing a counsellor can help you manage your anxiety better. There are plenty of free mental health services available for students.

The Student Wellness Centre at UVic offers free counselling services and can be reached either by email or over the phone Monday through Friday. Due to COVID-19, appointments are held either online or over the phone. The one downside is that wait times for pre-arranged appointments can sometimes be long, however, there are a limited number of same day appointments offered each week day.

Here2Talk.ca provides a 24/7 mental health line for all B.C. postsecondary students, both domestic and international. Sessions are free and can be accessed either online or through the Here2Talk app. Sessions are provided on a single appointment basis meaning that you aren’t guaranteed the same counsellor each time you call in.

Some self-care practices that can help anxiety outside of seeing a counsellor include meditation and other deep breathing exercises. 

“Learning some good grounding techniques, learning some mindfulness or meditation techniques are very helpful,” said Schell. 

Additionally, taking care of your physical health can improve your mental health. So remember to drink lots of water, eat healthy foods, and get out for some exercise when you can.

Have Fun

At the end of the day, no matter what reservations you may be feeling about returning to a pre-pandemic normal, it is important to let yourself have the experiences that you have been denied for the last 18 months. It is possible to both be anxious about an experience and also enjoy it.

Go grab dinner at your favourite restaurant, catch a movie at the theater, or explore the shops downtown. Once restrictions have been fully lifted in September, you will even be able to go to a concert or attend a sporting event.

As Ferris Bueller once said, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”