Text Size

Adjusting to this new normal

Don't abandon ship

In the new ‘normal’ of COVID-19 life might seem to be anything but. Uncharacteristically you might feel tired, off balance, emotionally shattered, anxious, and worried. Wondering when the ‘good weather’ or normality might return in your life and wondering what has become of the old you.  You are most concerned that this ‘sinking feeling’ is not the normal you. 

There are very definite reasons about how and why you feel like you do. Living in ‘lockdown’ does not help nor does headlines calling COVID-19 an unprecedented disaster. 

Take heart and comfort from understanding more about what is happening to you. There are literally millions of people in exactly the same boat, and on the same ‘voyage’ as you.  At times like this it’s good to remember that the human spirit is wonderful and resilient. With practice you can turn the tide in a positive and productive way. 

Difficult situations can produce anxiety—from a mild state through to deeper trauma leading to a depletion in serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates anxiety, happiness, and mood. Lack of this important neurotransmitter may lead to depression, low energy, negative thoughts, feeling of tension and irritability and difficulty sleeping.

Invisible, ongoing and personal

Science journalist Tara Haelle[1], writing in health and wellness website and blog Elemental, asks the question: How do you adjust to an ever-changing situation where the “new normal” is indefinite uncertainty? With ordinary disasters, she says, you can look out the window and see the destruction. In the current COVID-19 world the fall out is mostly invisible, ongoing, and personal. 

She uses the analogy of a medical concept knows as ‘Surge Capacity’ to define this unusual situation being experienced on a personal level. Surge capacity is  the ability of a community or a health care system to respond to sudden increases in demand for services or emergency help. Too much pressure can produce overload and even burn out. That is why, she maintains, understanding followed by action is important. 

She quotes Professor Michael Maddaus[2] in the need to accept that life now is vastly different. In his words: It’s a shitty time; it’s hard. You have to accept that in your bones and be okay with this as a tough day. Not as in giving up but not resisting or fighting reality so you can apply your energy elsewhere.” 

Tara Haelle says this is potentially a period of great self-discovery.  A time to expect less from yourself so that you can channel your time and spirit in a productive direction that fits you.    

She alludes to comments from Academic Professor Anne Masten[3] saying people are having to live their lives without the support of so many systems such as hospitals, churches, family support and essential human contact. 

“We need to recognize that we’re grieving multiple losses while managing the ongoing impact of trauma and uncertainty. The malaise so many of us feel, a sort of disinterested boredom, is common in burnout.  But other emotions accompany it: disappointment, anger, grief, sadness, exhaustion, stress, fear, anxiety — and no one can function at full capacity with all that going on. We don’t have a lot of control over the global pandemic, but we do over our daily lives. It’s important to recognize that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.”


Image by Anja from Pixabay
Ease the burden

Working with others, and ideally being connected to them in some way, can ease the feeling of burden and the understanding that you are not alone.  Even though you may not have the energy this is a good investment for now and the future.

The other important investment is highlighted by Michael Maddaus in the concept of slowly building your resilience bank account. This is introducing actions that promote resilience and provide a fallback when the serotonin levels are feeling drained. 

He says: “Though it would obviously be nice to have a fat account already, it’s never too late to start. The areas he specifically advocates focusing on are sleep, nutrition, exercise, meditation, self-compassion, gratitude, connection, and saying no.”

“Start really small and work your way up.  If you do a little bit every day, it starts to add up and you get momentum, and even if you miss a day, then start again. We have to be gentle with ourselves and keep on, begin again.”

None of this information is designed to trivialise a most serious global situation. Small steps can produce enormous gains. Humans generally enjoy a challenge. 

Covid-19 and Growth 

[1]Aug 16, 2020 - Your 'Surge Capacity' Is Depleted — It is Why You Feel Awful. Here is how to pull yourself out of despair and live your life.  Elemental.medium.com

[2] Michael Maddaus, MD, a professor of thoracic surgery at the University of Minnesota, USA

[3] Regents Professor, Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development, Distinguished McKnight University Professor