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Understanding people and the stages of confinement

May 14, 2020  By Isabelle Sauve and Bruno Seguin

Photo: Evrim Ertik/E+/Getty Images 

Humans are inherently hardwired to be social and to develop habits. COVID-19 is putting both fundamental natural tendencies to the test and turning our lives upside down. In countless ways life as we know it is drastically changing at an unprecedented speed completely outside the realm of our control. Social life, gatherings, concerts, festivals, community events, sport competitions, and group activities that typically promote human connections are replaced with mandatory “social distancing.”

Major life changes such as this can consequently create many negative feelings — frustration, boredom, social disconnect, anxiety and fear. Many also battle a sense of uncertainty and worry for the future. Small business owners and landlords are already feeling financial repercussions and worry about sustainability. The potential psychological and overall health repercussions of COVID-19 are extremely concerning and the full extent is yet to be revealed.

Along that vein, Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad’s recent study found loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity: “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increases risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.”

While Canadians are being told to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19, numerous essential workers, including law enforcement employees, must still put themselves and their loved ones at risk as they cannot stay home. Indeed, close contact with others is at times necessary in continued efforts to provide essential services.


A pandemic is very difficult on everyone and especially those with pre-existing physical, emotional, or mental illness conditions. Understanding the stages of confinement can assist officers as they deal with related issues.

A good way to understand what people are going through during this time of crisis is to draw a parallel with the various stages refugees experience when pushed away from their respective countries. Without clear established timelines, as people have their own ways to deal with situations, the studies have shown there are five fundamental stages.


This is the most complicated and disorderly stage. It consists of adapting to a new way of life, often tainted with a sense of panic. This stage explains the behaviour that has left many store shelves utterly empty as people stockpile items “in case.”

Advice for this stage: Avoid spending too much time watching or listening to the news or being on social media. It is also important to obtain information from the most trustworthy sources. It is time to plan positive goals for the duration of confinement. It is also a perfect opportunity to practice gratitude and be appreciative for what we have. Make the most of each day and appreciate the little things; it is important.


This stage is where individuals begin to lower their guards and become accustomed to the changes and embrace a new way of life. At this stage they can envision it for the long term.

Advice for this stage: Avoid spending too much time in social/group chats centered around the negative aspects of COVID-19 but rather use it wisely to remain connected with others and loved ones. It is a good time to take up a new interest or rekindle a long-lost hobby.


At this stage, the new reality sets in and becomes normality. Individuals learn to juggle their schedules between responsibilities such as family, homeschooling, work, etc.

Advice for this stage: It is important to view quarantine as an opportunity for personal time rather than seeing it as a jail sentence. It is also important to set a schedule to appropriately share time.


It is time to maximize on new opportunities and realities. Every situation presents possibility for growth, development and improvement.

Advice for this stage: This stage consists of working to maintain or improve the balance established in the previous stage. It is also time to begin thinking of goals and aspirations for when the pandemic has concluded.


This term is linked to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, called self-actualization and it relates to needs that must be met to allow humans to have the maximum development of abilities, as well as a full involvement and appreciation for life.

It is only attainable when basic needs such as survival, safety, love, belongingness and esteem have been fulfilled. As the pandemic begins to subside, individuals remain vigilant and a new “normal” has settled in.

Advice for this stage: It is an opportunity to apply the plans, skills and lessons learned from the pandemic to improve ourselves and the future.

In times of collective mobilization over a health crisis, we must respect the measures imposed onto us. Even though some may not necessarily agree with these measures, none of us can afford to follow our own individualistic ideas.

Nonetheless, a respectful obedience must not stop us from engaging in critical thinking or speaking out for what we believe in. It is unquestionable we are living in traumatic times where the potential damage on a population is real and could be substantial. Making sense of what we are experiencing and living, being inquisitive and daring to ask questions is not only an undisputable right but also a vital necessity.


Bruno Seguin is a senior executive manager and international business consultant with experience in global operations, international business development, strategic planning, leadership and corporate governance. He is also an ultra-runner, 9th place finisher at the Racing the Planet/4 Deserts 2018 Series and fellow Guinness World record holder.

Isabelle Sauve is a 13-year veteran with the OPP, currently with the Lanark County Detachment. She has a MA in psychology and is a PhD candidate. She is also an ultramarathon/ endurance athlete and the Racing the Planet/4 Deserts 2018 Series winner as well as a Guinness World record holder. She can be contacted at:

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