AS these past few weeks have rolled by and government roadmap phases have been implemented, it feels like life is finally beginning to resume.
But with most restrictions now lifted, it’s quickly becoming apparent that restriction reversal speed is not a one-size fits all. There are varying degrees of discomfort, uncertainty and worry remaining amongst many, which clash with the eagerness of others to get back on track in as much as is possible in terms of social engagements and activities.
This clash is due to the fact that everybody’s situation is so completely different, and no two can be compared. Personal and family health, individual worries and anxieties, various work and childcare commitments, all play a role in how ready and willing we are to embrace yet further change. The virus has not disappeared; we are working towards being able to live alongside it. But being immune-compromised, or seeing first-hand the impact of the pandemic as a front-line worker are just a couple of reasons for having increased trepidation around this transitional phase.
Although group gatherings and socially distanced pints are now permitted, that doesn’t mean everybody is ready or willing to make that leap. And that’s OK. The past few months should not be underestimated in terms of the impact they have had on how we interact with one another, and our reservations about same.
I still watch with a mix of nostalgia and horror when I see scenes on the television from the depths of the archives, showing crowds huddled together at matches, or politicians shaking hands. It’s amazing how quickly the concept of social distancing has become engrained in how we view things now.
And while numerous restrictions in relation to this are still obviously in place, emerging from complete lockdown is quite likely going to be difficult and overwhelming.
There is no right way to feel about this transition, or right speed at which to make it. Public health guidelines have been provided, but they are to be used as a maximum rather than a required level of social activity. The level that you choose to engage with is completely within your control. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind.
This is a time of conflicting comfort levels. Family members may want to hug, friends may suggest gathering in numbers larger than you’re happy with. Unless you voice your wishes and concerns, nobody will realise you are uncomfortable with these scenarios in the first place. Even if you find being assertive challenging in other situations, Covid is something the vast majority will appreciate your apprehension of, and they will understand your reasons behind wanting to be conservative about it. By simply stating you’re not comfortable with a meeting location or level of interaction, and instead suggesting an alternative, your position will be clear and most likely respected. And feel free to just say no too, you don’t need to justify yourself.
Just because you’re not ready to be fully back in action immediately, it doesn’t mean you’ll never be comfortable with it, it just means “not quite yet”. Consider what feels appropriate for you in terms of a “roadmap” and extend the timeframe of the government’s guidance to suit your own pace. Pencil adjusted dates into your diary and use these to aim for instead. Setting your own extended dates and keeping things on your own terms might help reduce your unease by increasing your control and reducing the speed of change.
Every invitation you receive will be different in terms of its risks. Before automatically saying yes or no, take time to implement a basic risk assessment to ease your anxiety. Will the numbers in attendance be appropriate, will the activity be conducive to social distancing, will the event be indoors or outdoors, should masks be worn and if so, will they? A cup of tea in a friend’s garden carries a lower risk than a large indoor party. Weigh up the different factors and make your decision based on whether or not you’re comfortable with the situation as a whole. Also, remember that you can change your mind or leave at any stage if things are not proceeding as you had hoped.
Take this unique opportunity to reflect on what you would actually like to commit to when it comes to your social engagements; what parts of your life did you miss, and what parts were you actually better off without?
This period is a chance to take that blank diary and fill it based on what worked for you in the last few months. Did you enjoy the extra time you had at breakfast to prep for the day? Did you find that online grocery shopping was a game-changer in terms of time management, or did you like the fact that Sunday afternoons became precious family time?
Commit to re-engaging with society on the basis that these priorities are not compromised by automatically jumping back into the frenetic pace of life that once was.
There is no right way to feel about this transition, or right speed at which to make it.
Dr Michelle O'Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company.