Theme parks have announced reopening dates. Restaurants are enticing us with open-air seating. Barber shops can schedule the grooming your hair so desperately needs. Offices are starting to welcome back employees.
But after three months of physical distancing due to COVID-19, many of us have been left wondering, what do we do now? Where do we go — literally and figuratively — from here?
“It’s important we balance the need to get back to some kind of normal life and keep the economy healthy with keeping everyone as safe as possible,” says Deborah German, vice president for health affairs and founding dean of the UCF College of Medicine. “COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. It’s still out there so we need to be smart.”
Katherine Daly, a licensed psychologist with more than a decade of counseling experience who serves as the director of Counseling & Wellness Services at the UCF College of Medicine, offers some suggestions for navigating life again.
“It probably would not be healthy to abruptly rush back into our pre-COVID life expecting it to look like the way it did,” says Daly.
In addition to adhering to the CDC’s recommended guidelines for venturing out in public, which includes wearing a mask and physical distancing, Daly also recommends doing self-assessments of your comfort level.
“I try to continually assess how does it feel going out?” she says. “If it feels stressful, then my world doesn’t need to be so big right now. My world can include those who make me feel safe and grounded.”
“I try to continually assess how does it feel going out? If it feels stressful, then my world doesn’t need to be so big right now.”
She also recommends having open and honest conversations with friends and family members to establish boundaries you feel comfortable with.
“Make it focused on how you’re feeling and your vulnerability and what you need,” she says. “In my case, I am more cautious because I have some conditions that put me a higher risk. I’ve had friends who are much more comfortable going to restaurants or beaches, and they’ll say to me, ‘We want to let you know what we’re doing so you can make an informed decision on if you want to see us.’ They know it’s not about being judged. It’s about people who care about each other feeling safe enough to communicate vulnerability.”
Daly says having a routine can help you regain a sense of control. Prioritizing sleep, nutrition and exercise should remain part of your daily life regardless if you’re still working remotely or returning to the office.
As more of us start to return to on-site work spaces, she stresses that having realistic expectations about your work routine will help you readjust.
“You may be used to rushing in and immediately hit the ground running and have a really productive work day,” she says. “But the first week back, you might need to ease in. You’re going to re-establish setting up your office, what it feels like to interact with your colleagues wearing a mask.
“I would encourage people not to expect too much of themselves and to allow themselves to readjust and re-establish those work routines so that work does feel safe again, and so people can establish some new boundaries of how to be healthy both mentally and physically in the workplace.”
German emphasizes that staying safe in the era of COVID-19 comes down to dedicating yourself to do five simple things: Wear a mask anytime you leave home. Keep a safe distance between yourself and others. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Don’t touch your face. Stay home when you’re sick.
“We all have to do these things,” she says. “If only 50 percent of us take these precautions, the virus will continue to spread. We have to approach this as a team sport. By taking precautions, you protect yourself, your family, your friends and your community.”
“We will re-establish a sense of normalcy — it’s what we do as humans,” Daly says. “We’re highly resilient. We’ve seen our ancestors do that through various struggles throughout time whether its war or natural disasters.”
But Daly also says that it’s important to evaluate some aspects of our former daily lives that might not need to be part of our future.
“The impact that all of this has had on the environment — did we need to be in the office every day? Did we need to be driving cars every day? Did we need to be heating and cooling all of those buildings every day?” she says. “Maybe those aren’t things we need to rush back to. But there are certainly aspects of human connection that I think all of us are missing that we will probably embrace more dearly after this.”
“Stay calm. Stay grounded. Do your best to stay well.”
Daly says it’s possible we may experience a year or two of residual stress from this pandemic. One thing that cannot be emphasized enough is protecting your mental health.
She suggests the websites Calm and Headspace for meditation and mindfulness exercises. Therapeutic literature, such as The Relaxation & Stress Workbook, can also be helpful.
For faculty and staff at UCF, she encourages them to take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program, which offers counseling sessions for free.
“Stay calm. Stay grounded. Do your best to stay well,” Daly says.