How to Ease Back Into Life after Quarantine

How to Ease Back Into Life after Quarantine

For many, we have spent the last two months at home trying to do our part in flattening the curve of COVID-19. Cities all around the United States are starting to allow for businesses to reopen and citywide quarantines to end. But what does life after quarantine look like?

I have been thinking about it a lot. Our city is opening this week with 10-10-10 regulations, which really just mean no more than 10 people inside non-essential businesses. But even with the reopening of cities, things will never go back to normal. A new normal will exist. 

I think our new normal could look like this:  

  1. Quarantine might be a new practice.
  2. The mask might become a staple in everyone's wardrobe.
  3. Social distancing might be a new habit. 
  4. Businesses will accept remote working. 
  5. People might stockpile household essentials. 
  6. People will appreciate teachers, child care workers, and stay-at-home moms/dads a lot more. 
  7. Social calendars might start to allow for more home and family time. 
  8. Kids will play outside more. 

No one knows for sure what changes will occur. The landscape across the world is changing as we knew it. But what we do know is that self-care during and after quarantine is essential to our well-being.

 

The Effects of Quarantine Physically & Mentally

Quarantine, as we all now know, is when we separate and restrict how often we are in large groups of people or public settings. Since March, Americans (and yes other nations too) have been self-quarantining to reduce the risk of being infected or infecting others with COVID-19. Across the nation, we have seen the stresses of isolation financially, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Quarantining has affected the holistic health of everyone- even if COVID-19 was not personal. At some point, during quarantine, you may have experienced: 

fear of getting the virus, frustration, boredom, job loss, financial loss, anxiety with a lack of household supplies being available, the stigma of seeing people with or without face masks on, frustration at the government officials for not having all the information or resources we need, amongst other feelings I may not have addressed.

First, know that no matter what you have felt during this time, your feelings are not wrong. The American Psychological Association reports that social isolation has several health risks.  

These health risks from social isolation (quarantine) can include:

  • Poor sleep
  • Poor cardiovascular health
  • Lower immunity
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty managing your emotions
  • Difficulty remembering information
  • Difficulty following directions

Whether your quarantine time was short or is still going on, isolation and loneliness of any period may have negative consequences on your physical and mental well-being.

Do you remember the SARS pandemic during 2002-2004? Some felt and experienced first-hand this pandemic more than others. In Toronto, more than 15,000 people went into voluntary quarantine due to exposure to SARS.

For ten days, these individuals were asked not to leave their homes, have visitors, avoid sharing personal items, wash their hands frequently, and wear face masks around family members, among other measures. This study revealed that individuals experienced a range of both immediate and short-term psychological effects.

Besides feelings of social isolation, they reported longer-lasting psychological distress for around a month afterward- almost 29% displayed PTSD symptoms, and 31.2% had depressive symptoms! And they were only quarantined for ten days! 

The psychological effects during and after quarantine one may experience are:

  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Numbness
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Post-traumatic stress symptoms
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Low mood 
  • Stress
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Irritability
  • Emotional exhaustion 
  • Substance and alcohol dependency 

This is not to say you are going to experience them all. But these are things to consider as your town reopens. 

I was traveling back and forth between Asia and the United States during SARS. The stark difference between life in America and life in Asia was vastly different. At airports in Asia, we had to walk through health checks that washed the bottom of our shoes and checked our body temperature.

You were fearful of coughing because people automatically thought of SARS. Any sign of sickness and you were immediately placed in quarantine. So many people wore masks, and to this day still do, when out in public. Asia learned to adjust to the new norm of pandemics. 

When I came into the states, it was as if we lived in a bubble that no harm can come to us, and life went on as usual. But what makes COVID-19 different is that it did change the landscape of America as we know it. Why? Because in a matter of weeks, every person in America was affected in some way. And as towns reopen and new norms unfold we need to know how to process the changes for our well-being. 

 

Is Quarantine A Trauma?

Did you know trauma doesn't have to be something that physically harms us? 

Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

About twelve years ago, I trained in Trauma-Informed Care, and even though I was taking the training to provide trauma-informed care, what the training did for me was also give me relief in my trauma.

During the training, the definition I was taught on "what trauma is" changed my life. I was amid all these intense feelings of disbelief, anger, shame, and sadness over a situation I had been dealing with for months, and I felt guilty for those feelings. I couldn't label what I was feeling. But learning about what trauma is and how to heal from it changed my own life while giving me more empathy towards people. 

Trauma is any life-altering experience that changes your life in an instant. It is an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds your ability to cope or integrate the emotions involved with your experience. 

Realizing that the feelings I was experiencing were trauma and that my feelings weren't something to push aside was freeing and finally brought me to a place where I could heal.

Trauma can be caused by an adverse event that causes a lasting impact on one's mental and emotional stability. Yes, this is typically understood with rape, domestic violence, natural disasters, witnessing an act of violence, death of a loved one, and severe injury or illness. Still, it can also be when you are forced to move and leave your life behind without any notice, it can be your house burning down, and yes, it can be when a city or nation institutes stay at home orders and instantly daily routines are changed. 

Feelings you may experience during and after a trauma:

  • Shock, denial, disbelief
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating 
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings 
  • Anxiety and fear 
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame 
  • Withdrawing from others 
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected or numb

Do those sound familiar to what we talked about earlier with psychological distresses of quarantine? It's because they can be intertwined. Trauma and quarantine can go hand in hand. Trauma isn't just about the event; it's about how you interpreted the event and how it affected you. 

After the SARS outbreak of 2003, healthcare workers and people who were self-quarantined exhibited symptoms of PTSD. Even if not clinically diagnosed with PTSD, many will have a strong emotional reaction to the trauma of COVID-19. PTSD is a chronic psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. 

When we emerge from the stay at home orders, not only will we see different landscapes economically and socially, but our psyche and mindset will have changed. The first month after orders have lifted, you may experience all the symptoms of trauma and psychological distress. 

Let yourself feel it, acknowledge those feelings, and then accept it. Let yourself process through all the changes that the pandemic brought on you, your family, your work, and your social life. As you process, most of the time, your resilience and recovery will happen naturally, and life will take on the new norms with more and more ease. But if by four or five months you are still tending to think black and white and catastrophic, then it might be time to seek some extra help. And that is okay! 

 

Life After Quarantine

Significant events or traumatic experiences bring change. Look at history, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Civil Rights Movement, the launch of Sputnik, the 9/11 attacks changed American norms and customs. COVID-19 will do the same. 

Not sure about you, but what I have seen locally is almost a reset of norms. I see kids playing outside for the first time, more people are outdoors exercising, families are spending time at home being creative together, yards look immaculate, and cities have less pollution, among other positive changes! These positive effects are not to deter in any way the traumas and loss people have suffered, but it's to show a glimpse of the resilience we do have even during loss. 

In 20 years, we will all remember the day businesses, schools, and events around the United States started to shut down. We will not forget the feelings and the effects of life changing in an instant. But we will also remember the resilience we had in moving forward. Our lives are altered because of this pandemic. Our country is changed and will forever be different.

As we each transition to a new norm, it is essential to remember that healing from a trauma takes time. Your journey after quarantine may look very different than others, that's okay. Everyone's experience and recovery after a traumatic event are different. Just as we learned about how to boost our immunity during quarantine, which involved a lot of tips for mental health wellness, we need to continue practicing those after quarantine as we process through the changes that have occurred. 

 

Tip # 1: Keep Moving 

Quarantine disrupted your life, and it disrupted your body. The trauma from quarantine threw your body off balance, freezing you into a state of hyperarousal and fear. Moving your body burns off adrenaline and releases endorphins to help your body repair its nervous system. 

Exercise daily for 30 minutes or more. Or micro-exercise and do three 10-minute exercise bursts throughout the day. 

 

Tip # 2: Keep socializing, even if from a distance. 

For introverts, it is easy to keep the isolation going after stay at home orders lift. For extroverts, it will be easier to throw a party. No matter your personality, connecting with others, is still just as crucial as it was during stay at home. Connecting face-to-face (even if you stay 6 feet away) will help you heal. 

 

Tip # 3: Keep your self-care routine for mental well-being going. 

Just because you can start seeing friends or go to your favorite restaurant doesn't mean you should push aside all the great self-care habits you picked up during quarantine. Guess what; those are still super important as you throw yourself back into being busy. 

Keep practicing your gratitudes and mindful meditation. This will help you when you have moments of feeling disconnected, anxious, or fearful. Sixty seconds of mindful breathing is a quick way to calm yourself. 

Allow yourself to feel what you feel and don't feel guilty for feeling that way. Acknowledge feelings about the quarantine, the good and bad of what happened during it, and then accept it. 

 

Tip #4: Keep your immune system healthy. 

Not only is a nimble immune system needed to fight off viruses, but it can also increase your ability to cope with -the stress of trauma. Do this by: 

  • Get plenty of rest. 
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. 
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. 
  • Reduce Stress. 

 

Tip # 5: Be intentional with what you listen to and watch. 

One of the best coping strategies when it comes to trauma is to ensure that you are doing things that positively impact your mental health and healing. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Does {fill in blank} make me feel good or bad?
  • Does {fill in blank} help me heal? 
  • What is {fill in blank} doing to me? 

Conclusion

As stay at home orders end, let's not forget the lessons we learned and the new habits we created during the quarantine. 

  • Remember that even though life seems to be heading back to normal, change has still occurred. 
  • Remember your coping skills during quarantine, practice them daily. 
  • Remember the memories created with loved ones, make more. 
  • Remember your new habits of self-care, keep them going. 
  • Remember to wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and stay in bed when you are sick.  
  • And lastly, remember that during quarantine, we looked out for each other, encouraged each other, supported each other, and were kind to each other, keep doing that. 

Someone posted this on social media. I loved it and will end with this: 

Some people don't agree with the state's opening… that's okay. Be kind.
Some people are still planning to stay home… that's okay. Be kind. 
Some are still scared of getting the virus and a second wave happening… that's okay. Be kind. 
Some are sighing with relief to go back to work, knowing they may not lose their business or their homes… that's okay. Be kind. 
Some are thankful they can finally have a surgery they have put off… that's okay. Be kind. 
Some will be able to attend interviews after weeks without a job… that's okay. Be kind. 
Some will wear masks for weeks… that's okay. Be kind. 
Some people will rush out to get their hair or nails done… that's okay. Be kind. 
The point is, everyone has different feelings on life after quarantine… that's okay. Be kind. 

We each have a different story. We each have a different quarantine experience. If you need to stay home, stay home. But be kind. If you need to go out, be respectful, keep your distance, and be kind. Don't judge fellow humans because you are not in their story.

What you can do is be kind. 

 

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Sources:

Hawryluck 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(7):1206–1212. doi:10.3201/eid1007.030703

Psychology Today

 

 


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