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‘Expecting life to continue like it did before is unrealistic’: mental health expert warns we must adjust to the ‘new normal’

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 15 JUNE 2020

As the UK lockdown begins to ease, a mental health expert is warning that we should not expect to ‘pick up where we left off’ as restrictions are lifted. Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at Birmingham City University, Kim Moore, shares advice on how people can adjust to this new reality…

Nursing Courses

Birmingham City University

Life is for living, so what is the ‘new normal’?

We so desperately want to return to our pre-covid lives. Many of us imagine that we can go back and pick this up where we left off before we worked and stayed at home.  We keep hearing about the ‘new normal’ but what does that really mean to each of us? 

Many of us have spent the last 12 weeks living separated and somewhat isolated lives, arguably a division between those for whom staying home – saving lives is a new life code, and those who may consider themselves invulnerable to the risks being stated. 

It seems we are in a time of many contradictions and it can be difficult to make sense of these. Adjusting to life outside the limited scope of our homes will take some adjustments, while we have increased freedoms we still cannot meet for coffee or a drink after our working day is done.

For many weeks we have been inundated by strongly worded but negative messages advising us of the dangers and risks of socialising with others which were designed to create caution and distance.  Having changed our lifestyles to accommodate maintaining our safety, we might have an initial rush to return to our lives on hold as though nothing had happened. 

Constant change is difficult and takes time to adjust to new conditions. Getting used to this ‘new normal’ is another emotional and psychological adjustment we are having to make. We all like to feel we are in control of what happens in our daily lives and letting go of our control can be hard to do.

When we see others ‘breaking the rules’ there is often a sense of injustice, our sacrifices for the greater good meaningless creating a sense of frustration and anger.  This can be enhanced when we see figures in power break the very rules they created which have cut us of from the social and family supports that help our mental wellbeing. These conflicting messages can create a sense of anger that is hard to let go, we may seek opportunities that replicate these behaviours or provide an opportunity to legitimately express our anger without repercussions.

Relaxing the restrictions can also mean learning to relax our control, this may feel wrong given the messages that are designed to keep us vigilant, but this is where active strategies for stress management can help. To help keep anxiety at bay and adjust to our new reality, remember…

  • Hesitation is a normal response. Use this time to imagine or visualise yourself taking a different response.
  • Breathing exercises or deep breaths can help us to feel calm. Take a moment and listen to what is around you, natural sounds in particular like bird song or the wind rustling the leaves on the trees can be very relaxing. 
  • It may be helpful to keep your mind and hands busy, so listening to music and tapping out a beat is very normal and is also soothing.  
  • Remember that anytime we make lifestyle changes it is hard in the beginning, there is a period of adjustment so do not be too harsh with yourself, but challenge yourself in being outside of your comfort zone. 
  • It may help to break this down into smaller steps as this can give you goals to achieve and make change less overwhelming.

And what about if you’re a parent worried about how you might be impacting your child?

  • Be conscious of how others around us including children can read our non-verbal communications and pick up on how we react, they can mimic this or react in response to their reading of our emotional states.
  • With children and teenagers consider the deliberate and unintentional messages we are giving them, talk openly about feelings particularly feelings of stress and anxiety and how normal this is in the current situation.

Changes take time, so be kind to yourself. Remember all of the sacrifices and changes you have made were to keep yourself and others safe. They were difficult to do, but worth it. Managing through this situation and the anxieties it brings is a huge positive achievement we all share. So, be kind to yourself as we take the next steps into our new reality.

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