The Myth of the New Normal

Published on: 01 Mar 2021
Woman riding the subway wearing a mask

Since the pandemic first started, the term “the new normal” has perhaps been the most overused descriptor for life during a pandemic. What does it mean exactly? Is it the term we use to describe the current moment we’re experiencing? Is it how we refer to the tragedies that could have been avoided — countless dead, staggering infection rates, and economic collapse — all of which have severely and negatively impacted our mental health? What does that make the “old normal” then — is that what got us here in the first place? Does the new normal mean we have to accept chaos as a default? Considering all these questions, it’s important to do what we can to reframe our perspectives so that we don’t go backwards. If nothing else, for the sake of our mental well-being. 

With that in mind, let’s look at the ways we reorient ourselves to avoid having to wade through the turmoil.

Protocols for the “New Future”

When it comes to our day-to-day life, don’t prepare yourself for a world where you don’t have to carry a mask along with your wallet, keys, and phone any time soon. The current health protocols we’re facing are here to stay, at least for a little while longer. An article posted by the World Health Organization last fall examines what needs to be done in order to go from the “new normal” to a “new future.” It stressed that governments need to continue improving public health and health care capacities, especially when it comes to early detection of and targeted response to asymptomatic transmission amongst younger populations. 

However, continuing to prevent the spread of transmission really comes down to public compliance. So that means, wearing a mask in public, physical distancing, tele-working, and frequent hand washing should remain a part of our everyday habits.

Going Backwards Isn’t Wise

Ashley Ertel is a peer consultant with Talkspace. She says that moving backwards is generally not a healthy path to take when it comes to evolving from challenges. “I cannot think of a time when I have ever really believed that going backwards would be wise,” she says. “Tactical pause? Absolutely! Retreat? I think not.”

She suggests reframing the idea of going back to normal.

“I think what we all long for is connection, human contact, clearer skin from not wearing a face mask all day, less anxiety, in-person learning, and Sunday brunches, right? These things do not have to be ‘things of the past,’ but rather part of our future once they are safe to do so again,” she says.

And not just any future — Ertel says that this moment is a beautiful opportunity to sort out better ways of protecting ourselves and those around us. “Science is always evolving, and while I think we can all agree that surviving a pandemic was not the way we wanted to grow, it is certainly an experience that science and history cannot and will not ignore,” she says. “Science and history are not allowed to go backwards — and for good reason.”

Lack of knowledge, experience, and foresight helped to get us to our current state, she explains. Heading back to those days would be dangerous for all. “I like to take a realistic approach to most things and to validate the pain that we are all feeling these days,” Ertel says. 

Ertel has found that reciting mantras has been helpful. A few that she suggests include: 

  • I have survived hard things before, and I will survive this now.
  • There is love if I allow myself to feel it and peace if I create it.
  • What is coming next will be exciting and new. 
  • Progress moves forwards, not backwards.

When It Comes to Learning, Slow Down and Linger

What about learning? What will come from this time students spent glued to screens in virtual classes? Will it be a transition to then shift to the old way of educating? A study from PROSPECTS, a Comparative Journal of Curriculum, Learning, and Assessment,

that looked at the “new normal” in education, suggests that “slow down and linger” should be the new motto when it comes to contemplating the curriculum question.

“Only in this way will we share what is common and distinctive in our experience of the current pandemic by changing our time and our learning to foreclose on our future,” it concludes. “Curriculum conceived as a complicated conversation restarts historical not screen time; it enacts the private and public as distinguishable, not fused in a computer screen. That is the ‘new normal.’”

Learning to Be Flexible in All Ways

Amy Cirbus, director of Clinical Content at Talkspace, says that embracing chaos can be a strong coping skill when things in our environment become unpredictable, and our typical interventions for regaining control and a sense of familiarity aren’t available. “Flexibility in both mind and behavior reduces frustrations and risk of anxiety and depression,” she says. “We let go of expectations, loosen our controlled grip and embrace ambiguity.”

Diving into intentional chaos is something a bit different and can be a slippery slope. Cirbus explains that it sets us up to have turmoil as the destination rather than something we manage. “A collective benefit of this pandemic is that we’re getting in touch with our resiliency,” she says.
“The best thing we can do is identify and acknowledge the strengths that have gotten us through — and continue to get us through — so that our new normal is set to incorporate these strengths.” 

The goal is to focus ahead in an empowering way, rather than wait for a return to a normal that may never come. We’ve already done much more than we might have known we were capable of. It’s empowering to take stock of where we are, intentionally think about a future that uses our new self knowledge, and draw a new roadmap. 

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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