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How to cope with the ‘new normal’ of COVID-19 lockdowns

Shock over news COVID-19 restrictions could last until summer
WATCH: Shock over news COVID-19 restrictions could last until summer

With provincial and federal officials signalling that strict social distancing measures meant to reduce the transmission of the novel coronavirus could be in place until at least the summer, Canadians are settling in for the long haul.

READ MORE: How long will coronavirus measures last in Canada? Experts say June or July

That leaves many struggling to cope with the “new normal” of no social gatherings, no sports, movie theatres, concerts and more for months to come.

Clinical psychologist Michelle Kimble says with the shocking first weeks of the pandemic’s arrival in Canada now over, people are looking for ways to process feelings of both hyper-vigilance and exhaustion.

B.C. health officials say COVID-19 restrictions will last until ‘at least the summer’
B.C. health officials say COVID-19 restrictions will last until ‘at least the summer’

“Now we’ve been at home for a very long time with our partners, with our children and we’re also now very, very deeply aware of the level of trauma and the level of loss,” she said.

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“So there’s almost a collective grief that we’re all experiencing.”

READ MORE: How ‘collective purpose’ in coronavirus may lift those struggling with mental health

Stay active, stay focused

More than ever, Kimble said, people need to focus on basic self care, including getting enough sleep and enough exercise.

There’s a wealth of workout, yoga, meditation and mindfulness resources available online, she said, many of them free.

Coronavirus outbreak: Staying fit and connected during self-isolation
Coronavirus outbreak: Staying fit and connected during self-isolation

Going for a walk, a bike ride, or a hike is another way to stay both mentally and physically healthy — provided you can maintain two metres of distance from others.

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Psychologist Joti Samra says it’s also more important than ever for people to build routine into their lives.

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READ MORE: Kelowna psychologist on the psychological impact of COVID-19 in extended interview

“Think of having a really finite, structured day. Set your alarm. Get up. Get in that shower and get out of your pyjamas even if your work isn’t requiring it,” she said.

“Approach each day with a plan, an intention for what you want that day to look like.”

READ MORE: Quarantine that stress: Limit screen time during coronavirus outbreak, experts say

Samra says while TV and social media can be an important distraction, it’s also key to limit binging on screen time.

The stress of the COVID-19 crisis along with the loss of structure may also disproportionately affect people living with anxiety and depression.

Coronavirus outbreak: Toronto’s medical officer of health shares tips on boosting mental health
Coronavirus outbreak: Toronto’s medical officer of health shares tips on boosting mental health

Kimble said it is important for people dealing with those issues to know help is available if they need it.

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“It’s so important to reach out. There are mental health teams available that have protocols in place in order to make sure that you have access to mental health support and treatment,” she said.

“While it may look different to what you’re used to in terms of a support model, adaptations are being made and they’re available to you.”

Staying social

The lockdown has also powerfully affected the way we communicate with our communities, with many people now working from home and finding fewer opportunities to get out of the house.

“It’s incredibly important for us now to maintain our strong social connections at a distance,” said B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry Wednesday.

5 things Dr. Bonnie Henry says British Columbians should do in COVID-19 pandemic
5 things Dr. Bonnie Henry says British Columbians should do in COVID-19 pandemic

“It’s one of the best ways we can take care of ourselves and our families and our communities.”

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Henry has stressed the importance of phoning or video-calling the important people in our lives, particularly seniors, and keeping kids connected through virtual kindergarten or virtual play-dates.

READ MORE: How Kingston is doing good, staying connected during the coronavirus pandemic

And while we can’t physically go out for a beer or a coffee with friends or colleagues, Samra says there’s no reason we can’t do those things virtually.

“Try to think about simulating social interactions a little bit closer to the things we might do in day-to-day life,” she said.

“You can video and watch a movie together, you can cook dinner together, you can eat meals together, you can work out together.”

And while the pandemic means there are limits to the way we physically interact, that doesn’t mean we have to do everything virtually.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: The struggle to distance social teens during a pandemic

Dr. Henry pointed to the daily 7 p.m. cheer for health workers as one way to share an experience with our neighbours.

She said dropping off flowers, groceries or other treats on our friends’, family’s or neighbours’ doorstep is another option.

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Canadians have also been coming up with their own creative ways to stay connected with their communities.

Some people are posting hearts in their windows as a message of solidarity, while one B.C. mom has come up with “rock monsters” as a way to keep kids engaged with the outdoors and each other.