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Feeling uneasy about the easing of restrictions? A B.C. psychologist says that's normal

Last Updated Jun 16, 2021 at 10:25 am PDT

FILE - A restaurant worker in Vancouver. (CityNews)

UBC psychologist says it may take time for some people to feel comfortable relaxing COVID-19 rules

Expert echoes B.C. top doctor's calls for patience with others as COVID-19 restrictions are eased

'This means respecting that those around you may not be moving at the same pace as you'

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – With B.C. set to take the third step in its restart plan in as early as two weeks, some of you may be feeling a little hesitant. An expert says that feeling is normal.

UBC psychology associate professor Dr. Azim Shariff says it’s important to be patient with those around us as we get used to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

He says not everyone is ready to rush into more normal life.

“There are a number of reasons. One is that people just differ dispositionally, and this is partially genetic,” Shariff explained. “People have different personality dispositions towards risk-taking, towards openness, and towards extroversion. Some people tend to be more threat-sensitive, some people tend to be more sensation-seeking.”

Another reason could be related to culture. Shariff says there are some cultures that tend to be “less encouraging of risk-taking, and that trickles down to individual preferences.”

Also consider that we just don’t know what some people have had to deal with through the pandemic, or how they may have been personally impacted by COVID-19.

“Certain people who have been more impacted are likely to be more gun-shy when it comes to reopening. And others who have seen minimal impacts are probably going to feel like there’s very little risk,” Shariff added. “We shouldn’t judge people. We have no idea of the different experiences they’ve had over the last year and a half.”

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Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also urged patience, stressing the importance of giving people the space and time they need to readjust.

“This means respecting that those around you may not be moving at the same pace as you. That some people and some communities may not yet be ready to receive visitors or to have gatherings,” she said on Monday.

B.C. could enter phase three of its restart plan as early as July 1, if case counts continue to decline and vaccination rates keep trending up.

The province kicked off step two of the plan on Tuesday, easing some restrictions around gathering sizes and allowing some businesses to reopen.

As we continue to see restrictions lifted, Shariff says a little understanding can go a long way.

“I think the most important thing is to recognize that there’s this variation between people and not make assumptions that everybody’s going to be as comfortable as you are,” he told NEWS 1130. “All this just echoes Dr. Henry’s point about the fact that we very much need that patience for each other, given that we’re all going to be coming at this from different places.”

Phase three of the plan does away with mandatory masks, only recommending they be worn. It also allows people to increase their social contacts, the lifting of restrictions on personal gatherings, increasing capacity for organized events, and more.

However, with masks and physical distancing having been the norm for the past year, Shariff says it may take time for people to comfortably ditch these newly acquired habits.

“I think certain things are going to bounce back pretty quickly, but there is a history of cultural changes that are prompted by these types of external threats,” he explained.

He says “loose” cultures, which are described as those that encourage deviance and risky behaviour, are like that “because they can afford to be. Because they’ve been relatively left alone by these types of threats.”

“When they start happening, cultures can tighten up and that can have a lasting impact. On the other hand, there are things like hugs, which I expect will roar back eventually once people feel comfortable,” Shariff said.

-With files from Nikitha Martins