Emerging From Isolation For Uni in 2020

Posted 14 Apr 2020
By Dr Dominique Thompson

Over a very short space of time our worlds have shrunk rapidly. Unless we are a key worker, our surroundings have reduced to a room or two (our sofa, our bed, our desk) and a local outside space if we are lucky. We have become used to a quieter world as fewer people move about, cars pass rarely, and sports, concerts and other gatherings have stopped.

We have slowed down, adopted different routines, followed rules, and tried hard to cope with being cut off physically from family and friends. We have mourned our lost lifestyles, and talked endlessly of what we will do when the restrictions lift, and when Lockdown is no more.

It has been vitally important for us all to focus on getting through this difficult time, taking it one day at a time (or one hour),  staying in touch remotely, and staying fit. We have enjoyed the birdsong (now audible as the traffic stops) and tree blossom, and the sense of community, humour and shared values we have discovered.

There have been positives in the darkness, as neighbours connect and we clap for our NHS. We have seen how many people genuinely value vocation, dedication, altruism, and hard work above fame, money and celebrity. There have been dark days but also bright spots.

We are now settling into a routine, having good days and bad days, trying to keep going with no fixed end in sight, but knowing this won’t be forever.

And that is the thing I want to touch on today.

As we yearn for our freedom, and for normality to return, it may be worth taking time to think ahead about how we will feel as we emerge from our isolation.

Will we have become institutionalised?

How will we manage transition back into Normal Life?

We may struggle at first with the noise that returns. We may currently miss our commute to work, but find the crowded bus or tube too much when we venture back out.

People pushing past us in the street or shops may make us anxious, now that we are becoming conditioned to swerve to avoid others. We might feel worried by crowds, having never given them a second thought before. Greeting people might be awkward- will we have been put off hugging, or shaking hands, or will we embrace them with enthusiasm? You don’t have to know now how you will feel yet, but it worth considering, being aware of the possible challenges, and planning ahead.

How will you adjust and recalibrate?

There are no fixed answers, but here are a few suggestions;

  • Be aware of this as a potential issue- that taking up your old life might need an adjustment period.
  • Plunging back into normal routine might not be the best thing- and a slow gentle approach might be better.
  • Ease yourself into work and studies slowly- plan to do much less than you might have considered normal in a working week, till you feel settled back in. Plan fewer meetings, or study sessions at first.
  • If crowded places make you nervous- dip in and out at first, till you feel able to stay longer.
  • Let people know that you might be having a staggered return to activities- and tell friends you might not want to go out every night just because you can.
  • Talk to others about how you might greet each other- if you’re not ready to hug people, be smiley and let them know, and plan ahead. Write it in your messages or emails, share your thoughts. Break the tension with light hearted comments, or honesty about your ambivalence ‘”I’d love to shake hands but I’m still adjusting to human contact! But it’s great to meet you.” Everyone will have been in the same situation, so they will understand even if they have a different approach.
  • Most importantly- Be kind to yourself. It is normal in times of transition to feel a bit anxious, and stressed. You will almost certainly feel anxious the first time you travel beyond your current boundaries, get on public transport, see your friends again in a group, or find yourself in a crowded place. Acknowledge it, recognise it for what it is (it is to be expected) and give yourself time to readjust.

We have a long few weeks ahead of us, and we will adapt, with support from each other. We will look after each other. But, just as we have needed time and support to adjust to this new ‘isolation reality’ we will need time, support and understanding to get back out there again, and ease ourselves back into Normal Life.

It’s worth talking about,  starting now.

For more advice or support check out Dominique’s Student Wellbeing Series of books.

Posted 14 Apr 2020
By Dr Dominique Thompson