In the space of a few months, the whole world changed and life as you knew it ceased to exist.
You stayed home, along with the rest of the world, to stay safe and keep others secure -- and a new normal evolved. Social gatherings stopped, work went online and going out meant going no further than your immediate surroundings. Your home became your life.
Now, after several weeks of living this way, governments are trying to get society (and the economy) started back up again and have begun easing lockdown restrictions as a result.
But with the threat of the coronavirus still looming, it’s inevitable that you may have fears and anxiety around leaving home, going further afield and being around people again -- particularly if you’re more vulnerable to the infection.
Some organisations are referring to this as ‘coronophobia’ -- the fear of returning to normality. But information is at hand to help you stay safe and better cope with this new way of life.
What to do if you’re vulnerable
When the pandemic began, certain people were identified as being at greater risk if they became infected by the coronavirus; people over 70, pregnant women and those living with 1 or more of a list of chronic health conditions -- this includes people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart and kidney disease, diabetes, and the severely obese.
If you’re in this group, you’ve probably been staying home longer than the rest of your friends and family, and the thought of lockdowns lifting may leave you questioning what this means for your health.
For the time being, staying well typically means continuing to stay at home as much as possible in some countries, such as the UK, even as others begin to go out and see people from other households.
A recent study by UCL analysed data from millions of health records in the UK to model the risk of death among vulnerable groups in the year ahead. As lockdowns ease, the study found this risk to be 5 times higher than in people without any underlying conditions.
This number was based on the impact of the virus itself but also less direct effects, such as health systems being under pressure.
The study authors, along with health agencies such as the European Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and World Health Organization, have called for governments to lift restrictions slowly and do everything they can to keep transmission levels low.
They have also called for close monitoring of how infections are spreading and asked governments to ensure healthcare systems have good capacity, particularly for the most vulnerable.
But to protect yourself, you should continue:
- staying home as much as possible
- keeping a distance of at least 2 metres from other people if you do go out
- wearing a mask or cloth face covering if you visit an indoor space, such as a shop, bank or pharmacy
- avoiding public transport
- washing your hands regularly for 20 seconds
- looking after your mental health -- for example, by staying in touch with friends and family online or on the phone, and reaching out to local charities and community groups
- looking after your physical health -- by exercising at home or going for a walk in uncrowded places
Recent research published in the Lancet analysed data from 172 studies and found that keeping at least one metre away from other people as well as wearing face masks was linked to a much lower risk of infection.
And if you keep 2 metres away from other people, that risk may again halve.
What to do if you’re not vulnerable
Keep following the guidelines
As you create your new normal and start to go out, visit shops and maybe head into work for the first time, you should continue to follow the core guidelines stated above around handwashing, physical distancing, and wearing a mask in public places.
People of all ages and health levels are at risk from the virus.
You should also work from home if you can. Talk to your employer about it, and if you do have to go in, cycle, drive or walk to work if possible.
And pay attention to any local advice that’s specific to your country.
Check in on your mental health
If you stayed home these past weeks, you may be feeling anxious about venturing out again.
Having fears or anxiety around returning to normal life is to be expected -- and you wouldn’t be alone in feeling this way.
A recent survey by mental health charity Anxiety UK on more than 700 people in the UK found that the prospect of lockdowns lifting caused more than two-thirds of people to experience an increase in anxiety levels.
The biggest cause was concerns around catching the virus, followed by using public transport, going out in public spaces, going shopping, returning to work or education and attending large social events.
Interestingly, more than half the people surveyed said they had got used to being at home and were worried about returning to their old routines.
“After being inside for a long time, it is naturally going to feel strange and challenging for people to start to return to their pre-pandemic routine,” says Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, adding that it’s “essential therefore that additional support is made available for this group of people.”
For your own piece of mind, it could help to:
- get back to some form of your normal routine -- get used to the sounds of the outside world again and set plans for your days and evenings
- continue to observe social distancing -- standing back and waiting for people to pass at a safe distance if need be
- take time to get used to the changes
- create a phased return to normal life -- for example, travel at off-peak times and make social plans gradually as you begin being allowed to see other people
But while re-establishing familiar, formal routines can be helpful, it may also be useful to explore if some of the things you’ve been doing differently -- and prefer -- can continue.
“When it comes to our personal lives, many of us are finding the current pace of life easier to deal with, as we’re less pressured to attend social gatherings, for example,” says Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at mental health charity Mind.
“It’s worth reflecting on whether we want things to return to how they were before, or if there’s an opportunity to review our priorities and really think about what makes us happy."