How to manage the anxiety of returning to in-person life
As students, staff and faculty prepare for a return to working and learning on campus, many are feeling increased levels of anxiety.
Dr. Randi McCabe, a professor in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, shared some insights on how the McMaster community can cope with this anxiety and prepare for the fall.
Q: What do you think has driven this sudden increase in anxiety?
For more than a year, individuals have been locked down, quarantined, and many have been working and learning independently with very little in-person interaction. There seemed to be no end in sight, until there was. Only recently, vaccination levels increased, case counts decreased, and restrictions eased, opening the door for normalcy in the near future.
This sudden shift may be a factor increasing current anxiety levels among so many, in addition to the fear of adapting back to regular life, while COVID-19 is still a reality, including a fast-spreading Delta variant.
The anxiety and fear people are feeling is real. But’s natural and completely normal given all the challenges people have faced living through a pandemic.
There’s been a significant increase in mental health referrals that have come through outpatient services, in fact last month we received the highest number we have ever received, and more than half of those were considered urgent or emergency. Canadians in general have experienced more depression and anxiety over the last year, and are still coping with this, as back to campus plans start to be finalized.
Q: How can individuals cope with the anxiety related to a change in routine, specifically as we come out of the pandemic?
For some, it may be helpful to dive right back into what they were used to doing before — old habits, routines etc.
Others may feel better taking a more gradual approach, changing one thing at a time. Just as we’ve all experienced the pandemic differently, emerging from it will be different for each of us as well. Each person’s individual plan to feel “normal” again should depend on their own comfort level.
Do what feels right, challenge yourself to do new things, and take time to reflect on what you have learned about yourself during the pandemic as these insights may guide how you want to move forward.
Most importantly, know where to go for support and know that you aren’t alone – there are so many feeling this way, it’s normal, and to take it one step at a time.
It’s also helpful to remember that local Public Health is watching with very specific indicators to make sure it’s safe for us to return to work and school.
Q: What can supervisors do to support their teams as they plan for the fall?
Knowing that this discomfort and anxiety exists, supervisors can start with proactive, open and honest conversations with their teams to understand how they are feeling and be flexible when proposing plans to return to campus. They can also encourage their teams to leverage the many mental health resources that are available to the McMaster community.
Moving forward, supervisors should plan for more frequent check-ins to see how everyone is doing and acknowledge individuals may have different needs during this transition.
Dr. Randi McCabe is also the Anxiety Division Head in Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster and Director of the Anxiety Treatment and Research Clinic at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
Here are some resources to help through the upcoming transition:
Psychological well-being resources available
Employee and Family Assistance Program
Mental Health First Aid Training
Psychological Health and Safety
A Way Through Provides support in managing grief, loss and bereavement during COVID-19 by making resources more accessible and fostering community support.
Compassionate Communication Toolkit
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