The New “Normal”

by Tracy Fromm, Mental Health Counselor for Caring Communities

Well, two months have passed since the inception of social distancing and self-quarantine.  I can honestly say I thought this would be an easy transition.  

As I spoke with clients early on, I noticed a willingness to adapt to the new changes, to cooperate with requests by our President and Governor to “social distance.”  However, the longer the duration of isolation, I am noticing more anxiety with clients and difficulty dealing with monotony and boredom. 

Continued confinement is antithetical to human beings.  We are beginning to “long” for previous times, the freedom to go anywhere and not have to strategize our every move We want to return to a time when we didn’t carry hand sanitizer and wear a mask.  Our trips to the grocery store which we once viewed as cumbersome, would now be a welcome relief, to freely move about and not have to focus on body positioning and what we have touched. 

Now, due to the virulence of this virus, we are thinking more often of our mortality, more often than we did previously. There is a constant feeling of danger, threat and uncertainty. The airwaves are inundated with endless updates of the “total number of cases”, the death rate, per state, nationally and globally.  To be bombarded with a constant reminder that we must consider our health on a constant basis, with the possibility of death lurking around the corner is certainly the catalyst for intense anxiety. 

Studies have shown that it takes up to 10 days for people to adapt to new situations (Smith et al.,2017). I was amazed when I read this study because I thought the length of time would be much longer. The success of adapting is contingent on “looking ahead” and focusing on the probability that the situation will improve. Also creating a routine has helped people to adjust to changes. By consciously projecting into the future and establishing a routine, the sense of uncertainty is diminished, and individuals feel a better sense of control over their lives.  

As isolation and quarantine continue, monotony and boredom is a threat to our lives.  So is low mood and a lack of motivation.  So how do we counteract this? 

Paradoxically, we need the connection with others, but also recognize that prolonged exposure to others can be irritating and will inevitably result in an escalation of conflicts or confrontations.  

Those individuals who work from home continue to have both the break from others and an established routine.  However, individuals who have lost their jobs, are dealing with school-age children, financial woes or who are caring for others have greater burdens. 

The best recommendation I can give is to continue to stay in contact with others, but also provide time for yourself. It is very important to have your own personal space, albeit for reading or just to listen to music. Thankfully, the weather is improving, and we can move outdoors to tackle home projects and gardening.  The key is to stay busy and involved, both personally and with tasks. 

 We must make every attempt to maintain our emotional health at this time and not succumb to despondency and depression.  You may have to “create” a new life for yourself, the “new normalcy.” We may discover positives coming out of our confinement, where we have learned a new skill or pursued an interest which we previously did not have time for. 

We are in this together. And most certainly we want our personal liberty to return.   

If you find you are having difficulty coping with isolation, please consult with your physician or mental health provider, particularly if you are experiencing increased anxiety, periods of depression or thoughts of self-harm. 

You can also contact the National Suicide Hotline for help and local resources. 1-800-273-8255. 

Sources: Smith, N., Kinnafick, F.,& Saunders, B.(2017). Coping strategies used during an extreme Antarctic expedition. Journal of Human Performance in Extreme Environments, 13(1),1.