What Happens After Quarantine Ends?

09 August, 2020
The world has changed so much since the first day of lockdown that it's a challenge to think about what will happen when it ends. Psychologist Marcelo Ceberio reflects on what our response might be.
 

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses but quarantine has a way of highlighting the latter. It’s like that crack in the ceiling you can’t stop thinking about. It’s been there forever, but now that you’re home all the time, it seems to be getting bigger and bigger. The same goes for our issues, struggles, and flaws. During the lockdown, they seem more obvious than ever. So what will happen when quarantine ends?

Anxiety is partly to blame because it enhances and magnifies your faults. The other factor is the people around you. If you’re living with people during the quarantine, the constant togetherness means you’ll focus on their dysfunctional characteristics more than anything. It’s a perfect storm. The lockdown exacerbates your own faults, and you become more aware of others’ defects.

It’s not that you’re actually getting worse, it’s just that your faults become more evident. Being with someone for three hours is very different from being with that person all day long. Now you have plenty of time to pay attention to every little detail. Here’s the formula for this quarantine phenomenon:

Time in confinement + irritation + boredom + lack of distractions + anxiety

After you’ve tried all the tips and tricks to stave off boredom and frustration, the bad mood sets in. You feel irritated, intolerant, and impatient with your own faults and the bad habits of those around you. Everyone wants the quarantine to end, and life to go “back to normal”. But what does that mean? And considering your current psychological state, what will happen when quarantine ends?

 
A woman wondering what will happen when quarantine ends.

From protective caution to paranoid conspiracy

For today’s article, I’ve collected a series of anecdotes and comments from patients that illustrate in some way the issues we might see when quarantine ends.

Like tics that can become a part of your nervous system, these attitudes and emotions could develop as we start the socialization process. It all depends on your degree of self-awareness when quarantine ends.

Dreams during quarantine

A close encounter

One woman told me that she dreamed of seeing her best friend after the lockdown. They ran into each other and stood face to face, looking into each other’s eyes. The woman moved towards her friend and gave her a hug. Then, her friend placed her hands on the woman’s chest, and forcefully pushed her away.

The woman immediately realized her mistake and brought her hands to her face. She felt anxious and scared. With that, she woke up.

Running from zombies

Another patient dreamt that, when she went out of her house, she saw a wasteland. Overturned cars, shuttered businesses, ransacked houses… In the distance, she could see zombies slowly making their way towards her to give her a fatal bite.

 

She started to run because she had forgotten her mask, and when she turned the corner, the face of the virus was right in front of her. She woke up, startled by her nightmare.

The walking dead allegory embodies the virus and increases people’s fear of going outside.

The rejected hug

Another man went to take out his trash. On his way, he saw his neighbor, who was a friend of his.

When they saw each other, they were leaning in for a hug when they realized what they were doing and did a sort of acrobatic backend to avoid touching each other.

Self-induced panic

One of my patients was going to the Chinese grocery store in his town. After going through a checkpoint on the road, they also took his temperature at the supermarket door, and he started to feel nervous.

He went in and started to feel sweaty and flushed. He also felt short of breath as if he was having a panic attack. The man was on his way out of the store when he saw that they’re also checking temperatures at the exit. He was nervous he was going to have a fever, which raised his heart rate again and he sweated as he thought about how awful it would be if he had to go to the hospital. When they checked his temperature, however, it was normal.

He realized that the supermarket employees had cleaned with bleach and he was a little bit light-headed. The fresh air calmed him down and he was able to take a deep breath. Once he was out, he realized how he had worked himself into a panic.

 
A man asleep in his bed.

Going out to the grocery store to break up the day

Going to the grocery store isn’t something to take lightly. In fact, it’s one of the few outings that people have been allowed to do since the beginning of the pandemic (along with walking dogs).

People want to be out of their houses so badly that going to the supermarket has become a big event. You get ready, put on nice clothes, grab your bags, and head to your neighborhood grocery store.

Once you’re there, you’ve probably noticed some interesting dynamics between people. Psychologists and sociologists who study human behavior could (and probably will) analyze these phenomena.

Before, people walked around with their carts without a care in the world. You might bump into someone with your cart and apologize if you brushed someone’s arm. These days, everything is different. Instead of just being cautious, people have become paranoid. When they see someone with a mask and a cart getting closer, they’ll quickly turn and duck into the next aisle.

Nevertheless, no matter how careful you are with your safety measures, it’s impossible to control everything. In that same supermarket, someone with COVD-19 could cough onto their hands and then grab the nearest cart. They do their shopping and exit the store, leaving behind the contaminated cart.

 

A little while later, someone grabs the cart and, unbeknownst to them, coronavirus. If they happen to touch their face or their nose, it’s all too easy for the virus to get into their system.

A woman walking through the supermarket.

What happens when quarantine ends?

So, what will happen when quarantine ends? Will people continue to disinfect everything like they’re doing now? Some of these habits will certainly last long after COVD-19.

For example, changing your shoes or leaving them at the door when you get home so you don’t enter your house with shoes you wore out. This isn’t something that most people thought about before, so maybe it’s a lesson that we’ve learned from lockdown.

Another important and potentially lasting change is working from home. Quarantine has completely normalized working from home, and it seems like teleworking is here to stay.

People will travel less, there will be less pollution, crowded offices, eating out, renting office space, etc. Whether these are positive or negative things depends on what kind of work you do, because businesses that survive on public consumption will certainly suffer.

 

Will other people continue to be a threat? Are you going to start greeting people again with a handshake or a hug? Or will you still stay six feet away at all times? Will COVID-19 completely change the way we greet each other? Are you going to keep hand sanitizer in your car or your purse?

It’s so difficult to say what’s going to happen. Are businesses, universities, banks, restaurants, and schools going to open their doors again? What about getting together with friends? Saying hi to people? Maybe everyone will start bumping elbows. The elbow is an underused body part, after all.

I’m very curious if people will start using public bathrooms again at gas stations, restaurants, or train stations. When you feel like you just can’t hold it anymore, will the fear of getting infected be greater than your biological needs?

Will we continue to feel like the outside world is dirty and contaminated once quarantine ends? You know the feeling. You go to the store and when you get home you want to douse yourself in alcohol to get rid of whatever you accidentally touched along the way. Should we change? Will we change? Or will people resist change? So many questions…

One of the few things that we can say for sure is that the quarantine hasn’t been a completely pleasant experience for anyone in the world.

Everyone’s different, so everyone’s quarantine experience has also been different. The same is true for what’ll happen when quarantine ends. Whatever your day after looks like, the most important thing is that you overcome the challenges of this experience, and learn something from it.

 

The pandemic is happening, you can’t escape it or control it. What you can control is what you do with this experience. Will you take advantage of this opportunity to learn some lessons you can apply in the future? Will you open the literal and metaphorical doors to whatever comes after quarantine?