As provinces across Canada start to approach stages of reopening from COVID-19 restrictions, many Canadians have been experiencing anxiety about returning to normalcy.
According to psychologist Maneet Bhatia, these feelings of anxiety are normal and any change, be it positive or negative, usually induces stress and anxiety.
“We’re going back into a dramatic shift. We’ve been living in lockdown and a pandemic for 15 months and as much as we don’t like living this way, human beings are adaptive and we learn to live in the conditions we’re in, so to speak,” he says.
“Now to relearn the new normal and to come out of this. It can be triggering for certain people and it can create a lot of uncertainty and questions.”
Bhatia adds it’s important to acknowledge it’s normal to feel anxiety, then work through each individual’s stressors gradually.
“It’s going to take time for all of us to find our footing, so to speak, and each one of us has their own risk tolerance and their levels of comfort and we have to honour that for each other and ourselves,” he says.
For those looking to ease back into their extroverted selves, Bhatia says people can start to gently expose themselves to activities like seeing friends at a barbecue in the backyard.
Additionally, bringing some of the things people enjoyed from the pandemic world into the new world can help, he says, pointing to those who were more extroverted prior to the pandemic who have now realized they enjoy time alone for hobbies like gardening.
When it comes to navigating anxiety about getting back into family and friend gatherings, Bhatia says social etiquette can always be a challenge.
“What I would say is being honest about where you’re at and trusting that if they are people who you care about and they care about you … that they will understand,” he says. “And it’s making it clear that this is not about them … it’s just that right now you may not be comfortable going to a big gathering.”
For parents who are looking to support their children’s transition to normalcy, Bhatia says children, especially school-aged ones, have been experiencing mental health difficulties.
“What I would always start off with is having conversations, talking to them to see how they’re doing, letting them know why this is the way it is, and then sharing the positivity about it, that we’re coming towards a better outcome,” he says.
Bhatia encourages parents to get their children involved in summer activities like sports and let them know that come September, if things progress, other normal things like school may also return.
Additionally, while children may be withdrawn right now, Bhatia says as soon as things open up there’s a chance they might just flip a switch and go back to enjoying things.
“But if they don’t, these issues persist. It’s always important to not feel afraid to reach out for professional help,” says Bhatia. “They might need some additional support beyond just having access to more social opportunities or activities, and they might require some guidance professionally, and that’s OK.”
Watch Bhatia’s full interview with ‘The Morning Show’ in the video above.