Navigating Anxiety & Reduced Restrictions (French version available)
After two long, agonizing years, there seems to be a light at the long, dark tunnel that is the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are still some positive cases, the government has, little by little, been lifting restrictions. As of late, we are increasingly returning back to normal life. I know that there are millions of other people like myself, whether it be students, employees, or teachers, who have gotten far too used to our new routines of staying in all day and communicating with the world behind the safety of their computer screens.
Keep in mind, the pandemic hit when I was in my second semester of grade 11. I remember it being quite the exciting time for me; my friends and I were looking forward to our final year of high school. When we went into lockdown, I was just like everyone else, I was thinking it would be gone as fast as it came. Of course, this was not at all the case, and now look at me, a first-year university student at the University of Toronto.
A couple weeks ago, my school campus opened up and two of my classes were moved to being in-person. I am not even going to lie, the moment that I found out that I would be going back to in-person learning, I was hit with this overwhelming anxiety. And honestly, that unnerved me; the words “restrictions lifting” did not overjoy me like I thought they would. Instead, I felt absolutely terrified of the world around me, especially since I was so accustomed to my routines at home. If you are also feeling panicky or anxious about the decreasing restrictions, that is completely normal, and you’re not alone.
In all honesty, my first day on campus was a scary experience to say the least. I had forgotten what it was like to be in an actual classroom, plus, I was new to the campus – I had never been there before. The world had never felt so foreign; it just felt like this big mass in which I knew absolutely nothing about. I felt terrified, but I did not specifically know why: was it the virus? Was it being around people again? Again, these feelings were normal, but they were still extremely overwhelming to me and my mental health. In an effort to help others out, I have created a list of methods and things to keep in mind that have helped me even in the smallest of ways when it comes to journeying through the new normal of our world.
Start Slow, Be Gentle
Transition periods are never easy. This was a transition that none of us ever expected to have to make at all, so start slow and do not be hard on yourself. As restrictions start to lift everywhere, it will feel tempting to push yourself to get right back into exactly how things were before. But you have to be gentle. When you feel anxious or nervous when you’re outside, try to keep track of it and find the source – what seems to be causing it? If there seems to be no apparent cause, just focus on the task at hand. Try to get home as soon as you can, but also focus on positioning yourself comfortably in the outside world; normalize it as part of your routine. As you go on, try to make more plans. Remember, push yourself, but be wise enough to know your limits.
Talk About It! (It’s Easier than it Sounds, I Swear)
Anxiety is one of those things that becomes easier to cope with when you talk to someone about it. I made a point to talk to some people in my classes, and I ended up making a friend! Talking to her throughout this transition of going back to campus has made the process much easier. However, if you’re a student, I would also advise you to possibly seek the counselling services on your campus; scope out your resources. Or, try therapy! Talking to a therapist, someone from an unbiased standpoint in your life, makes it a bit easier to be able to navigate your experiences. Therapists are also trained to help you and give you a new perspective on the issues in your life; you could learn breathing exercises or coping mechanisms to help you with your way in this new world.
When you get home, take a warm shower, and take at least an hour to yourself. With such hectic schedules, that can sound like an utter and complete impossibility. But it’s easier than it sounds. In high school, they give you at least 40 minutes just to eat, to take some time for yourself and rejuvenate; that is still important, no matter where you are in your life. In fact, according to a Tork survey, 90% of North Americans say that breaks increase their mental well-being and overall productivity levels (Kohll 2018). If you’re hesitant about giving yourself time to relax, remember this: if you don’t take the break, the break takes itself. Somehow, your burnt-out state of mind will find a way to seep through. Like I said, be gentle. This new world is scary to navigate, especially when we have to learn to let go of all the restrictions.
Kohll, Alan. “New Study Shows Correlation Between Employee Engagement And The Long-Lost Lunch Break.” Forbes, PARS International Corp, 29 May 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2018/05/29/new-study-shows-correlation-between-employee-engagement-and-the-long-lost-lunch-break/?sh=4db7ab3c4efc.
Zlotnick, Sarah. “How to Cope With Re-entry Anxiety During COVID-19.” Montgomery Magazine. Montgomery Magazine, 21 August, 2020. https://www.montgomerymag.com/how-to-cope-with-re-entry-anxiety-during-covid-19/.