Transitioning Back Into Society

May 2020

As lockdown conditions start to ease, we, as a society and as individuals, face another problem: Transitioning back into society. For those of us who have been totally isolated, this is a very real fear and concern. For others who may have had some external contact, it’s still the fear of how things will be when so many more people are brought into your daily interactions. We all know that life outside the security of your home environment won’t be the same when all the restrictions are lifted, and this is a scary thought. Why? Because it’s the unknown. Because we’ve been taken away from what was and our behaviours have changed. In addition to that, not all restrictions are going to be suddenly eased; This is going to be a gradual process.

So let’s think about this for a moment: First we were told to hibernate and we needed time to adjust, but now that our routines have been established (whatever they may be), we know that it’s just going to be a matter of time before we’re told to go outside of our home and interact with others again, face to face. During this time, some of us have lost jobs and have had to deal with the fallouts of that financially, and essentially had no external “voice” (such as an employer) dictating their day. Others have been able to continue working, but completely remotely, with the ability to hide behind screens, phone calls and messaging. Others again, have continued working amongst society, but the amount of people that you’re interacting with on a daily basis is restricted and there are many rules in place for what is and isn’t allowed. And now, we’re starting to ease those rules.

Change is scary at the best of times, but being forced into it after isolation can bring on much more anxiety than you might expect. Attitudes have changed. Boundaries have been erected. Tempers may and probably will, flare. On top of all of this, everyone is going to experience and transition through the change differently, so not only would you need to be concerned with how you’re behaving and handling it, you will have to watch the reactions of others around you and quite probably, adjust accordingly.

There is no doubt that this transition is going to be easier for some of us more than others. Over the years, I’ve worked from home sporadically and I’ve learnt to understand and know when I need to essentially, hide out and get things done in isolation, and when I’m okay to be around people. But learning this took time. Learning this meant stopping and really listening and feeling your emotions; Understanding what triggers made me want to hide and what ones made me want to be around others. Understanding where my limits and boundaries were and also knowing when it was healthy to walk away from situations and when it was not facing my fears or confrontations. But even with all the knowledge that I have on myself, I have to admit that I LIKE working from home every weekday. I LIKE managing my own time without anyone really looking over my shoulder. I LIKE my daily “commute” to my desk that is drowned in morning sunlight (usually until about midday), the fresh air that flows in and that I’m able to control, and the background low-key music that I stream on my TV. I LIKE the freedom and inexpensiveness of being able to walk to my kitchen to make another coffee or tea, and being able to make whatever I feel like for lunch, rather than having to either pre-make it first thing in the morning, or scour the food courts for something to eat; And I LIKE the money I’m saving because all my soy flat whites and lunches are made by yours truly, in the kitchen. Yes, I still have meetings to attend, calls to make, emails to send and reply to, and work to get done, but doing it all from home, everyday, has definitely brought its share of benefits and comforts. It’s still going to be a transition for me to go back into the office.

To add to this, there’s my children that I’ll need to watch and help them do their own adjustment. My eldest has had to do all her schooling from home – there was no real option to go into the physical school, but she’s self-sufficient with her lessons, attending classes and doing her work. My other two have been attending school as normal, but then again, not as normal. They’ve been physically at school but their lessons have still been virtual, so that means that whilst they’re physically there along with some teachers, they still need to log onto a computer for the class. You’d think that they’ll have an easier transition when the other students start returning to the classroom, but they’re going to have to get used to being in their separate classrooms again, with a teacher that’s physically present and teaching / instructing them, and a whole bunch of other kids. I can just picture tempers flaring, and not just from the children!

My younger two have told me that they’re looking forward to seeing all their friends at school again, and as younger children, they’re going to be able to handle the changes better than the older ones. Why? Because they accept that everyday is a learning experience and they know that some days (or moments) are better than others, but that there’s always something else to look forward to, so, in the end, it’s all okay.

My eldest though? As strong and independent as she is, she is worried. She wants to see her friends again and she’s keen to get back into her daily (physical) high school routine, but there are the little things that concerns her. Things like not being able to eat when she feels like it. Having to remember to take all the required books to school. Charging her laptop and headphones diligently every night. And having to wear the right layers of the school uniform so that she’s warm enough during the day, given that we’re heading into winter.

My advice for my children and for you, if you’re worried about the transition, is this: Start to slowly move back into the routine that you know you’ll have to work in soon. This might mean waking up at a certain time or always having lunch at a certain time. When you get dressed in the morning, start dressing as you would if you were going outside of your home. If you normally wear a suit or uniform to work, you don’t necessarily have to put it on, but you should make yourself just as presentable as if you were to put it on and walk out the door. Give yourself a few weeks for this transition, gradually adding in parts of daily routine, so that by the time things do “return to normal”, that you’ll be prepared – mentally and physically. I’m not saying that you won’t find yourself in challenging situations when you “go back”, but it will make it easier.

No one really know what the new normal is going to be, but we all do know that it won’t just go back to how it was. So be kind to yourself during this time. Allow yourself to feel anger and frustration, and then find ways to manage it. Learn to listen to your body on what triggers you negatively, and work to either avoid those situations or find ways to manage them with limited stress. But most of all, understand that you’re not alone and that any anxiety you might feel about returning to work, school or society, is normal and it’s okay to feel not okay about it. Remember that no one has the right to tell you how you should feel, but it’s up to you to take care of yourself and know when you need to reach out for help. We’re all going through this together.

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