Adjusting to New Norms Yet Again

Symbol for a post-covid life. Businessman turns cubes and changes words 'covid life' to 'post-covid life'.

We’re being told by some that there will be an end to the many struggles and horrors of the yearlong pandemic and promises of being able to return to normal. It’s what we all want, right?

Of course, but remember that every change, even positive ones, cause stress. We have had to adapt to the world of Covid and all the ways that impacted us; wearing masks and washing our hands, practicing social distancing, worrying about friends and family members who were vulnerable, dealing with people who became ill and/or died. We have had to figure out how to buy our food, how to care for our kids and make sure they were still getting some kind of schooling, how to manage our jobs and learn to use Zoom. We have had to deal with feelings of isolation, abandonment and loneliness.

It’s a long list of adaptations with many other things that could be added. The bottom line is that we have endured a year of ongoing stress coupled with unpredictability that has caused various levels of damage to our minds, brains and immune systems.

We have been creative about working around the new requirements to preserve our safety and the safety of others. We discovered colorful and meaningful masks that make statements. We used social media to maintain contact with others. We discovered ways to buy food and have it delivered. Amazon is our new best friend. We tracked all the ways to get vaccinated and traveled long distances to get our shots. We had to visit our medical professionals remotely. The list goes on and on and speaks to our abilities to be creative and adapt.

So what happens now as things change once again and we are allowed to resume some of what were our normal ways of life?

NEW NORMAL words on protective face masks on yellow and red background.

We probably won’t be able to fully return to normal for a long time, if ever. Those who are naturally more cautious might find it almost scary to resume normal practices of going shopping, out to dinner or to a movie. We may continue to wear masks because they make us feel safer even if we are given a clear signal from those who have guided us through the process of staying safe. We may have experienced the many surprising benefits of working from home and may not want to go back to having to drive to an office, wear business attire and real shoes.

I think it is important to prepare for a long road to transition back to life as we once knew it way back in 2019. Our brains do not like change. Change is work. Even the best changes require a greater awareness of what is to come and how we need to respond to it.

May I offer a few recommendations? Be prepared for a very gradual return to many of our previous norms. It may take much longer than we want. Try to be patient with yourself and others. Assume people are doing the best they can do.

Commit to staying on top of the recommendations by the CDC and others who have a handle on the facts about the virus. Don’t rely on the opinions of those who are not privy to these facts. Don’t rush into a return without being sure you will be safe.

Consider the positives for all you have experienced this past year. What are some of the things you are grateful for? Have you been forced to slow down a bit? Have you had time to do some important deep thinking? Have you found yourself closer to friends and family as you worked together to survive all these months?

Appreciate that you are once again having to experience many changes and these changes, even though desirable, will cause some degree of stress. Don’t be surprised if going back to old patterns causes you to feel anxious. It’s normal and all part of how our brains work.

Embrace the mentality that we are all in this together. Our strength as a species lies in how we come together during times of crisis and care for each other. Just as we had to be creative with regard to finding new ways to stay safe and connected during the pandemic, we can be creative in finding gentle ways to return to the familiarity of being together.

Remember that we learned a lot from this experience. And it may not be all bad if we don’t go back to everything as it once was. We have learned a lot during these many months. Let’s commit to holding on to that which gives some added meaning to what we have survived.

Invitation for Reflection

  • What are some of the things you are looking forward to as the world begins to open up?
  • What do you anticipate your reactions might be to returning to some of the ways you functioned before the pandemic?
  • How can you prepare for some surprising levels of anxiety?
  • How can you help those close to you make successful transitions to what will become our new norms?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute