Ever since the start of the Canadian pandemic response (a year and a half ago), dreams of “getting back to normal” have been a regular topic of conversation and something I personally have spent a lot of time thinking about. The longer the pandemic went on the more we seemed to pine to have our “normal “ lives back. But at what point does our new normal just become normal?
As vaccination rates soar and COVID-19 cases drop we are moving closer and closer to getting back to normal – after living in isolation for the better part of 2020/2021. This is definitely good news. But, what I want to talk about today is the need for gentleness and patience with yourself and others as the old normal returns.
They say it takes on average 66 days to create a habit. This means about two months of doing something every day for a task to become a normal part of daily life. We have been working from home, physically distancing, and social bubbling for 17 months now. This is plenty of time for us to habitually adapt to our pandemic lifestyles. Whether we like it or not a new normal has been developed. Just as it took time for us to adjust to wearing masks and not seeing our friends, it will take time to adjust back to the non-pandemic lifestyle. It may take even longer as people deal with pandemic trauma and COIVD-19 anxiety.
I would consider myself an extrovert. I prefer to be around people, my people, new people, work people and home people. Yet, after this year of extremely limited social interaction, I find myself navigating some symptoms of social anxiety that I have never experienced before. My boyfriend and I attended a wedding last week in Nova Scotia for one of my dearest friends. The borders and vaccination rules were updated just in time for us to be able to safely attend. I was incredibly grateful to be able to share this special day with my friend. Yet, I was dealing with a surprising amount of anxiety as I embarked on my first major “post-pandemic” trip.
It’s like I had forgotten how to pack to be away from home. I was nervous about getting lost or not finding my hotel. On top of this, I had nerves about being surrounded by people I did not know and having to make small talk. I’ve done all these things many times before the pandemic but now they seemed a lot harder. Or maybe they are always this hard and I’ve just forgotten? Either way, learning a new habit is hard. Pushing myself to go out and do things I once loved is hard. Unlearning fear is hard, but I think it is worth it. I had a wonderful time on my trip and at the wedding. So, I have hope my anxiety will shrink as social exposure and new experiences become more regular in my routine.
Anxiety at its root is good. It protects us from danger. But, we have to start challenging anxiety when it begins to take away happiness and opportunity from our lives. As the world reopens and we experience some reentry anxiety, listen to it. Know that it is okay to be gentle with yourself and protect yourself from jumping in before you are ready. Take baby steps. Relearn your new comfort level. Reflect on what level of socialization adds to your life and what level takes away from it. It is so good to be with others again. But, it is also okay if it is not easy right away.
Rebuilding a new normal takes time. Be patient. Let your new normal develop as it needs to with no expectation from others or your past self.
This pandemic has changed all of us. It’s okay to create a new normal that best serves the new you.
Amy is a fresh grad with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. University does not come naturally to a person with a learning disability, making Amy uniquely proud of her undergraduate accomplishments. Amy is working to be more open about her disability and strives to view her learning challenges as an opportunity for growth in resilience and creativity.
She has worked with rehab patients, people with disabilities, veterans and mental health clients searching for more equitable access to community recreation. She believes wholeheartedly in the therapeutic benefit of doing what you love, as often as you can.
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