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5 Tips For Reintegrating Into Society

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The messages of staying safe have been loud and clear since mid March. Nine weeks later we are told we can start to go out again. We are like cavemen & women who had a saber tooth tiger lurking outside of our cave for months, now we don’t see it and are peeking outside, wondering if it is safe to emerge again. Our fight, flight, or freeze system is on high alert, scanning for danger. We might jump at the honk of a horn, or find we can’t handle fast moving vehicles. So how DO we emerge from the safety of our “cave dwellings” and remain calm?

Tip #1: Breathe! Calm, slow, deeper breathing has been scientifically shown to calm our nervous system. If you have had someone getting groceries for you during COVID-19 and are nervous to go into any stores yet, practice slowing your breathing down before you get out of the car. There are many breathing techniques that can help, and bottom line whatever feels right and works for you is the best one! Here is something you can try.

box breathingBox Breathing: Pretend to be looking at a square. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, exhale slowly for 4 seconds, then hold again for 4 seconds. Repeat the sequence 4 times which brings you to around a minute. How do you feel?

Tip #2: Graded Exposure. Simply put, graded exposure means gradually doing more and more of something. Much of physiotherapy is based on graded exposure, so why not use it in this situation?

If you have not been out of your house much and are nervous to do so, go gradually. Start with going for a walk in a park at a time when it isn’t busy, then walk down a street during a quieter time. Increase your exposure to noise, movement and people as you feel more and more comfortable. Eventually you will feel more comfortable going into a store.

The same technique can be used if you are anxious about wearing a mask. A mask can trigger traumatic memories for people and catch them off guard if they weren’t expecting it, leaving them to wonder why they are so anxious. Maybe it was a previous assault by someone wearing a mask, or cancer treatments, or memories from living through a bad forest fire or war. Or maybe you just don’t like the feeling of something across your face. To prepare for wearing a mask, start with using your favourite scarf - something comforting and breathable. Wear this around the house where you feel safe. Gradually introduce tighter and thicker scarves until you are able to wear a mask at home, before you venture away from your “cave”. Go out for short stints to begin with, and practiceTip #3: Practice Mindfulness - Mindfulness is a term that is thrown around a lot lately, but mindfulness simply means being in the present moment without judgement. It is a technique that I find very helpful in distracting my mind from worry or ruminating on what I need to get done that day. Let’s imagine you are getting out of the house for the first time since we’ve been told to “stay home”, and you are nervous to do so. Use tips #1 & #2, but add #3 too. When you are going for a walk tap in to your senses and name 5 things that you see (a new house being built, an airplane in the sky, the stain on your shirt from breakfast), 4 things that you hear (someone hammering, the airplane overhead, the crunch of your feet in the gravel), 3 things that you smell (the flowers you just walked by, exhaust from a big truck), 2 things that you feel (the warmth of the sun on your cheek, the breeze from the lake) and how you feel in this place and time (physically, emotionally, psychologically) … remember, don’t judge, just take notice! your calm breathing, then increase your exposure to wearing a mask.

Tip #3: Practice Mindfulness - Mindfulness is a term that is thrown around a lot lately, but mindfulness simply means being in the present moment without judgement. It is a technique that I find very helpful in distracting my mind from worry or ruminating on what I need to get done that day. Let’s imagine you are getting out of the house for the first time since we’ve been told to “stay home”, and you are nervous to do so. Use tips #1 & #2, but add #3 too. When you are going for a walk tap in to your senses and name 5 things that you see (a new house being built, an airplane in the sky, the stain on your shirt from breakfast), 4 things that you hear (someone hammering, the airplane overhead, the crunch of your feet in the gravel), 3 things that you smell (the flowers you just walked by, exhaust from a big truck), 2 things that you feel (the warmth of the sun on your cheek, the breeze from the lake) and how you feel in this place and time (physically, emotionally, psychologically) … remember, don’t judge, just take notice!

Mindfulness is another scientifically proven technique to help calm our heightened nervous system. It helps to keep us grounded and in the moment, so we don’t get overwhelmed. Use it when you go to the grocery store, or go back to work. Try it, and see how you feel!

Tip #4: How to wear a mask properly - this is an important one! Making sure you put on, take off and actually wear your mask properly are all paramount to making sure it works to protect you and the public. Before putting on your mask, wash your hands (see tip #5). Hold the straps to put the mask up to your face, making sure to cover your mouth and your nose. If you have a tie mask, tie the top tie first, then the bottom tie. If it is a procedure mask, loop the elastics around your ears. Once it is secured, pat the bridge of the mask at the nose so it forms to your face, and pull it under your chin.

Before removing the mask, wash your hands again. Unhook or untie your mask (from bottom to top) and hold the mask by the straps. Properly discard your mask into a waste bin and wash your hands again afterward.

For more tips on storing used masks there are many resources that can be found on the internet. Make sure your resource is from a reputable site.

Tip #5: How to have proper hand hygiene - Washing your hands is one of the best ways to ensure your safety when it comes reducing your risk of spreading and contracting diseases. Did you know that a study found that people touch their face up to 23 times PER HOUR? So regular washing of your hands is important!

Wet hands with warm water.

Apply soap.

Wash hands for at least 20 seconds (including your palms, back of each hand, between fingers, thumbs and under nails).

Rinse well.

Dry hands well with paper towel.

Turn off tap using paper towel.

If you don’t have access to a sink, use at least 60% alcohol hand sanitizer and cover your hands thoroughly and let air dry. Remember to also sanitize those things we don’t think about… our cell phone, our steering wheel and our credit cards.

There’s no need to get hyper vigilant, but knowledge is power, and it’s all about establishing an awareness and habit. Be kind to yourself and others, and if you have found any of these tips helpful, share them with someone who might also want to know them!

Virtual Physio Update

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