By Tina Fournier, M.Ed.
The year 2020 brought the world to a stunning halt; it was hit with an unprecedented pandemic known as COVID-19. The first case in the U.S. was reported on January 20, 2020, and expanded to over 30 million throughout the year (del Rio, 2021). The death toll, due to this virus, continued to rise. Government mandates forced the world to shut down, isolate, and withdraw into a protective state of being. Currently, vaccines created by PfizerBioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson have been distributed. “These vaccines have proven to be safe and highly effective in preventing severe COVID-19 and death and likely also prevent transmission” (del Rio, 2021). As summer approaches, a positive ray of hope fills the air as the world slowly turns towards an optimistic outlook. With this optimistic view comes anxiety, fear, and a sense of the unknown for the future. Wonder and despair creeps into everyone’s mind as the “new normal” blankets the world.
As we reflect back on how eye contact, hugs, high-fives, and even a simple handshake seem to be activities of the past, we wonder if these simple gestures will return or will they go away with the “new normal”. Human contact to express socially accepted affection has been stolen by the thief, COVID-19. The regulated mandates for wearing masks and social distancing have isolated people to the point where they are afraid of the dangers that greet them at the door when they leave their homes, and the thought of being around people in public heightens their anxiety. Will we as a society overcome the fear of COVID-19 that still haunts and lingers in the shadows even after the distribution of the vaccine?
The scars of COVID-19 have left our society feeling alone and afraid of finding and adapting to the “new normal”. Distancing ourselves from others, afraid of human contact, and isolation has become so familiar we find ourselves afraid to leave our safe environment to find some kind of normalcy. Trying to return to a “new normal” seems to send anxiety through the mind, body and soul of most people. As we try to find how this “new normal” fits into our lives we are met with hesitation and many questions. The questions of… What if…? Is this safe? What are the restrictions? Will it be crowded? Are they open? These are the questions that leave us feeling afraid of getting back to the normal life we once had. So how do we cope with overcoming this loneliness, and the fear and anxiety of the “new normal”?
In an article by Bartoszek, et al., 2020 it states, “Emerging data shows that the general public may be vulnerable to the pandemic-related stress and experience frequently prevalent anxiety.” The study involving 471 subjects in this article showed that people who are isolated at home experience more depression, loneliness, insomnia, and fatigue (Bartoszek, et al., 2020). Our mental health is supported by a positive social environment, which has been stripped away due to the social isolation caused by COVID-19. In an article by Saltzman, et al., 2020, the importance of self-care and positive coping skills are discussed as ways to reduce loneliness. Taking care of our self physically and mentally strengthens our ability to cope with the loneliness that comes from isolation. I recommend setting a schedule everyday as if you were going to school or work; this will help you feel like you have a purpose for the day. Set a daily routine, which includes getting out of bed, exercising, showering, making your bed, eating healthy, eating at a scheduled time, and setting a regular sleep schedule. Another very important element to remember is to communicate with your friends and family every day via phone call, text, face time, zoom, or face-to-face if possible. Communicating will help you feel connected and will help lessen the feeling of isolation. The use of technology may also be helpful to support our well-being by helping us connect to the outside world (Saltzman, et al., 2020).
Accepting the past, letting the scars heal, moving forward, and accepting the changes in the world will help us manage and embrace the “new normal”. Finding happiness within ourselves through being actively engaged in the world around us will lead to a better understanding and less anxiety. The “new normal” of wearing mask, using gloves, social distancing, getting rapid COVID-19 testing, getting vaccinated, ordering food and supplies online, limiting social contact, and being quarantined should be embraced with admiration and not fear. We need to find pleasure and a sense of astonishment within our new post COVID-19 world through the acceptance of the “new normal”. Continuing to live our lives and focus on the well-being of ourselves and others will lead us through the dark tunnel to that positive ray of hope.
Bartoszek, A., Walkowiak, D., Bartoszek, A., and Kardas, G. (2020). Mental Well-Being (Depression, Loneliness, Insomnia, Daily Life Fatigue) during COVID-19 Related Home-Confinement—A Study from Poland. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 17(7417). doi:10.3390/ijerph17207417
del Rio, C., and Malani, P. (2021). COVID-19 in 2021—Continuing Uncertainty. JAMA. Published online March 04, 2021. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.3760
Saltzman, L., Hansel, T., and Bordnick, P. (2020). Loneliness, Isolation, and Social Support Factors in Post-COVID-19 Mental Health. American Psychological Association. 12(S1). http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000703