Dr. Jo Ann Unger, C. Psych.
Thoughts on our "New Normal"
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
I was recently asked, "With all of the changes we have had to endure, will we ever get back to normal living? If not, what will our new normal look like?" It may be a question many, if not all of us, have been asking. We have endured so much uncertainty and change, which taxes both our physical and mental resources. We are looking for a rest from it all. We want to settle into a routine, that is not a lockdown, where we can do the things that we know are good for our physical and mental health.
Many of us may be longing for the "normality" of the past. For some of us, this means longing for a reduction in uncertainty, less concern over our physical safety, and not having to make so many decisions which, with the changing health regulations, can feel like a moving target. There are some activities that we could not do that we really miss and maybe were taken for granted. This is understandable and I am hopeful that we will eventually settle into a new routine. What that may look like remains to be seen.
However, we can never truly go back to what was because we cannot undo the experiences we have had and how they have impacted us. As with every experience, we will be changed by having gone through a pandemic, on an individual, community and societal level. This change can be a good thing. Hopefully, we are learning some lessons that we can take forward to our new normal. At all levels, now is the time to take stock and use the forced changes for our learning and benefit. Based on this learning, we can create or choose changes to carry into the future. As humans, our ability to adapt and learn is connected to our ability to survive and thrive. I actually hope we do not return to our previous normal because that means we will not have learned anything from our experience. Also, there were many things about our previous normal that were not good, beneficial or even okay and we have an opportunity to make important changes as a society.
Here are a few of the things that I have learned, having lived through a pandemic:
I have learned of the importance of having fun every day, for my personal mental health and well-being.
While the research has been supporting it for some time, I have learned that tele-therapy practices are effective for many people and are one way to improve access to mental health services.
I have learned that human beings, adults, youth and children, can be flexible, adaptable, and resilient and can come together in times of difficulty and hardship. While we have struggled in many ways, I have been encouraged by the many stories of kindness, creativity, and compassion.
I continue to learn more about how our world struggles to provide equitable access to basic human rights and my place in the systems that contribute to those inequities.
Here are a few of my hopes for how we, as communities and societies, might learn from our experience of living through a global pandemic:
I hope our new normal will involve the realization that some people's previous "normal" was not good and they were already having to think about their safety on a daily basis. I hope this leads to increases in empathy for each other and equity within all systems.
I hope we learn how to better deal with polarization of opinions and learn how to come together to make a better society.
I hope we learn to have greater flexibility in the workplace for the benefit of family and individual health.
I hope our new normal makes mental health a greater priority in our health systems.
I hope our new normal helps us appreciate the people and social supports in our lives and that we learn to prioritize our relationships and communities over activities and possessions.
I understand that these are high expectations, but I believe we can do these things. We can learn. We can adapt. I encourage you to make your own list of things you have learned over the past two years, the changes that you are choosing to keep, your hopes for the changes in our communities and the ways you can help our communities grow from this experience. I truly believe we, as communities and societies, will be able to learn from this experience to help us all become more resilient, healthy and compassionate.