The New Normal

I was watching Seinfeld last night with my roommate. (I’ve been trying to convince her it’s the greatest show ever, but you know, these things take time.) “Stop, Jerry, don’t touch your face! You’re on the subway,” we laughed. “This was definitely in a pre-quarantine life.”

I paused.

A pre-quarantine life.

I had just admitted it. That things have changed. Things are not what they used to be. Life feels different now.

There’s been a sense of it lingering in the air since this all started, but my fears were confirmed when that statement left my mouth. Will things ever go back to normal? Is this the death of the handshake? The hug? La bise? (Noooo!!)

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My mind is so scattered. I feel like I barely even remember what life was like before all of this. I’m living in a bubble, belonging neither to country nor city nor even community. Going to the grocery store is exceedingly stressful, leaving the house is more of a hassle than a thing to be enjoyed, and life being entirely virtual is something I only read about in dystopian novels from the 1940s. But it’s real.

We all know that even when country borders are reopened, when work starts back, when people are allowed to go out in public freely, things will not be the same. I would argue that it will not be the same for a very, very long time. Can we truly be prepared for how this might impact our communities in the long run? What will be the emotional, psychological and even philosophical response in our communities and nations?

The Coronavirus Culture

It’s no secret that people have been slightly panicky since the rise of the novel coronavirus. Fear creeps into our minds as grocery store shelves empty. We hear talk of not enough testing, not enough food supply, not enough, not enough, not enough…

What’s scary about this collective fear is how difficult it is to break the cycle of it. It’s like a cement that hardens into the crevices of society, leaving no room for any other way of thinking. It soon becomes all we know and all we project to know going forward.

We’ve stopped nearly all forms of face-to-face interaction (or at least, most people have). We are cautious of germs and people being too close to us, and some people even freak out when someone sneezes in public. Clinical psychologist Steve Taylor discusses current coronavirus culture in an interview with Discover Magazine. “Fears will wax and wane depending on what happens. There was a spike in fear when the [World Health Organization] started using the “p” word — pandemic. That caused a spike in people’s anxiety,” Taylor said.

Though fear is prevalent and understandable, we cannot let it control us. If we do, we run the risk of falling into a worldwide groupthink.

Groupthink and the psychology behind pandemics

Groupthink is the psychological concept in which individual members of “small cohesive groups tend to accept a viewpoint or conclusion that represents a perceived group consensus, whether or not the group members believe it to be valid, correct, or optimal.” Groupthink essentially dumbs down the part of the brain that effectively problem solves, resulting in a weaker collective mindset rather than a stronger, individual one.

Combine this psychological phenomenon with a pandemic and what do you have? A perfect storm.

And yet, this storm must be weathered. How can we overcome this overwhelming epidemic of fear?

  1. Use perspective: When looking at statistics or reading articles, keep in mind the various populations, perspectives, sources and relevant information. Do not diminish the tragedy of the epidemic, but make the numbers or news more comprehensible and manageable in your brain.
  2. Feel your feelings: It might sound counterintuitive when you are trying to be logical, but give yourself a set amount of time per day to feel the fear, anxiety, anger and whatever else you feel. And after that time is up, it’s up. Move on to other activities. This will prevent you from letting those emotions seep into other important aspects of your life, such as your interpersonal relationships.
  3. Analyze: I cannot say this enough. Analyze your thoughts. Analyze your actions. Analyze others and the situations around you. Do not fall into the numbness of groupthink nor any other type of complacent thinking process. We simply cannot afford it in times like these.

So, humanity, this is our test. We either sink or swim. We either adapt to the new normal or we spend our lives in fear. How long do you think it will take for us to get back to a pre-COVID life? (I’m not sure that we ever will.)

How are you feeling during all of this? What questions have been on your mind? How are you handling this new way of life? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below! Stay safe everyone. For more articles related to psychology and pandemics and all that jazz, check out this one, this one or this one.

P.S. Please wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, even after all of this is over. I am shocked at how many people don’t do that???? (Including Poppie).

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