Going Back to Normal
Now that a lot of us are fully vaccinated, and some stricter states or organizations are finally starting to lessen COVID-19 restrictions, you’ve probably heard the phrases “back to normal” or “the new normal” bandied about in the media. Obviously, some of us are finally venturing out into public without a mask on for the first time in over a year, but there are probably a million other ways that we’ve adjusted to the pandemic, and they’re about to be challenged. Just like the transition into the pandemic was a challenge, this change, what some are calling “going back to normal,” is sure to be an equally mind-boggling transition for us. From forgetting how to engage in the art of small talk, to not remembering how to maintain polite facial expressions, re-entering society won’t be easy. It’s going to be important for us to stay aware, take care of ourselves, and have patience with others as we all navigate yet another drastic life change.
What Used To Be Normal?
Think for a moment about the way things used to be before you’d ever heard of the coronavirus. I know what it was like for me. I used to wake up at 3:30am to go to work. I was an opening barista at a coffee shop, and I’d be done with a 4-6 hour shift by 10am most days. From there I’d go home to work on my freelance writing/editing business, usually for another 4-6 hours, just trying to make ends meet so that maybe one day I could afford to stop making lattes. After that, I’d try (and often fail) to work on my creative pursuits, either attending shows and rehearsals at night or writing until I fell asleep on my computer. When did meals happen? Exercise? Socializing outside of a work setting? Laundry? Cleaning? Relaxing?
Exhausted and Overwhelmed
I honestly can’t remember doing a lot of those things, but… I can tell you that my depression would chime in every couple of weeks, and I’d get so exhausted and overwhelmed that I would disappear into my bed for 1-3 days at a time, barely moving from my bedroom cocoon except to use the bathroom and answer the door for GrubHub deliveries. Sound terrible? Yeah… But I thought I was happy! I was proud of myself, in fact. I was a “hustler.” I believed that the harder I worked, the more likely I was to achieve my goals, and when I’d inevitably crash, I felt ashamed for not being “strong enough” to work even harder.
This may sound extreme, but I wasn’t the only one. I know plenty of friends and colleagues who were living the same way before the pandemic, until COVID-19 restrictions completely halted the unsustainable momentum of hustle culture. But we weren’t wearing masks! And we could travel freely without concern! And we could stand closer than 6 feet away from our neighbors! So it was way better, right? Ummmmm…
The Old “Normal” Doesn’t Have To Be The Goal
I know I’m not the only one who has no desire to return to that pace of living. I’m not the only one who actually learned a great deal about healthy boundaries and protecting my energy when I was forced to adapt to the COVID-19 world. And while I’m certainly excited to finally go out on a real date with my boyfriend again, I’m definitely not looking to return to any semblance of the “normal” way I, and so many people, lived before. And it’s okay if you don’t want to either.
Lots of us have joked, or at least heard jokes, about how the U.S. is about to experience another “roaring twenties,” because everyone is going to want to party all night every night to make up for the fun we missed and the energy that built up during 2020 isolation. That’s okay too! As long as you’re safe and considerate of others’ health and boundaries, I hope you are able to have a grand time in the coming months. But if you’ve discovered in the past year that you’re actually an introvert and a homebody, it’s also totally okay to decline those invitations, skip the parties, and stay home to water your plants and do puzzles. Because if we aren’t careful, we’re likely to hit a giant cultural wall of burnout in a few months.
Just because you used to have a certain job, hang out with certain people, participate in certain activities, or adhere to particular habits before the pandemic doesn’t mean you have to return to any of those routines. Just because something used to be our “normal,” doesn’t mean we are obligated to go back to it.
What Exactly Is The “New Normal?”
Some of us may have realized we never want to go back to working in an office again. Some of us may have realized that we’ve been homebodies and introverts all along, but hustle culture was keeping us on such a tight schedule that we thought we were entrepreneurial, social butterflies when really we were just incredibly anxious, burned out overachievers in fear that slowing down would be perceived as failure. Either way, I believe the best “new normal” we can shoot for as a society is going to be one that prioritizes mental health, rest, and healthy boundaries.
Go Easy On Yourself
You’ve been used to working from home, seeing only those in your “bubble,” and not being in crowds over a certain size. It’s natural that once you return to your office, start going out again, or even attend larger events, your body will respond by feeling tired. Don’t shame yourself with memories of how much higher your social stamina used to be! Take a nap.
Don’t fill every single day or evening with scheduled activities. In March 2020, it was jarring to go from having a packed calendar to staring at a totally blank weekly planner. So it’s probably a wise deduction that it would be extremely jarring to jump straight back into having nonstop plans after over a year of spending most of your time at home watching Netflix and researching sourdough starters. Leave 2-4 nights a week free in your calendar so that you can rest, refill your energy reservoir, and avoid total burnout.
Have fun, but be safe. Go back to your favorite brunch place. Visit your family. Enjoy the things you missed, by all means! But be safe. Respect the boundaries and safety restrictions of those around you, and make sure to keep washing your hands, limiting your exposure, and even wearing a mask where that’s still appropriate.
If you’re feeling a lot of anxiety and trepidation about the way the world is reopening, don’t hesitate to reach out to chat with a HopeCoach or sign up for an email mentor. We’re always available to walk through your challenges with you and to help you understand just how loved you are by Jesus, who also went through his own roller coaster between times of isolation and spending days with huge crowds. He gets it, we get it, and you’re not alone in this.
When life gets crazy, it is very important to find rest. Check out my blog, Time to Rest – It’s Okay to Do Less.
About the Author…
Cara Beth Heath is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, Illinois. She loves words and all the different ways they can come together to illuminate the world for us. All she wants to do is use her God-given word skills to bring light into dark places, and when she’s not doing that, she’s probably wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate watching a movie or playing Dungeons & Dragons… God loves nerds too!