One Day at a Time - Adjusting to the 'New Normal'
Many Australians have spent the last few months in limbo, anxiously waiting for the day they thought may never come. The 80% vaccination target has been hit and restrictions have finally eased. While many were happy about this announcement, an almost equal number of individuals living in Australia felt concerned (Wainright, 2021).
Some common thoughts that might be coming up could be, “Is this too quick? Won’t the case numbers sky-rocket once we open up?”
“How am I going to return to in-person meetings? I’m anxious to see my friends again; it’s been easier being able to hide behind a computer screen.”
While some flocked to the pubs the minute the clock struck midnight on Monday the 11th of October, many were fearful, battling anxieties about their own and their loved one’s health and/or anxiety about meeting people face-to-face again.
Change is not something that comes easily to many of us. The last two years have been a roller-coaster ride. As our knowledge about COVID has increased, the realisation that this virus is ‘here to stay’ has become increasingly clear.
A study conducted by Cheng and colleagues (2021) examined levels of anxiety, depression and ‘coping flexibility’ related to the COVID pandemic amongst adults in Hong Kong. 'Coping flexibility’ was defined as, ‘the astute deployment of coping strategies to meet specific situational demands’. These researchers found that those who possessed high levels of ‘coping flexibility’, were less likely to experience COVID related anxiety and depressive symptoms and were better able to adapt to the ‘new normal’.
Those with higher coping flexibility were better able to:
Distinguish between situations that were within their control and to change or modify from those that were beyond their control,
Modify their behaviours so that they could effectively work around situations that were beyond their control,
Slow down and reflect upon the best strategies to use when dealing with stressful situations.
Another study conducted in the United States in a sample of over 8,000 participants found that those who had been vaccinated were more likely to experience improvements in their depressive symptoms after their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination (Perez-Arce et al., 2021).
As we transition from having the restrictions associated with lockdowns relaxed and moving to greater ‘freedoms’, adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and ‘learning to live with the virus’ will likely be challenging for many of us. For those more prone to anxieties about returning to interacting with people face-to-face, it is completely acceptable to slow down and pace yourself. While some people may feel relieved and ready to resume normal life again, others might feel hesitant from the events of the last two years.
At EastCoast Psychology & Psychiatry, our team of clinicians have come up with a few ‘top tips’ to bolstering coping flexibility and easing into the ‘new normal’:
For those suffering from anxiety about their health:
It can be helpful to focus on the actions that we can take to provide ourselves with a greater sense of control and reduce our own levels of anxiety about the pandemic. Try to avoid impulsively turning to ‘Dr Google’ whenever you experience pangs of anxiety. It is important to note that there is a lot of ‘unverified’ information out there on the web and it is easy to get misled. We always recommend visiting your GP or a health professional if you are feeling unwell. However, if you do choose to consult the internet, try to ensure that the information you find is from reliable sources.
Reliable scientific information can be accessed online in peer-reviewed academic journals which may be retrieved either through Google Scholar. Other online health resources may be obtained from the websites of research institutions (such as the Black Dog Institute, BeyondBlue), or governmental health services such as NSW Health, or the National Health Service (UK). Online chat-forums, blogs and Wikipedia, whilst interesting and entertaining, are not always the most reliable of sources of information!
For those experiencing anxiety about social situations:
Be gentle with yourself and don’t rush back into socialising face-to-face in large groups. You could start with seeing one friend at a time in a quieter location, as opposed to venturing out to busy places with large groups.
Seek professional help if you feel as though your anxiety prevents you from doing the things you want to do, or causes you significant distress.
For those experiencing sensory overload:
It is natural to feel ‘overstimulated’ by sights, sounds and scents when emerging out of a quiet lockdown period and back into the rush of everyday life. If you feel as though crowds of people, bright lights and the sound of traffic is more overwhelming or irritating than normal, you are not alone! Sensory overload is a common experience in those with anxiety, but can be experienced by anyone, particularly when aspects of our environment suddenly shift.
You could try wearing headphones and listening to calming music while in loud public spaces if it is safe to do so. Sometimes wearing tinted glasses or sunglasses indoors can additionally be a useful way of reducing the ‘sensory load’ in your surroundings.
If you feel that you’re struggling with anxiety, low mood or sensory overload with getting out of lockdown, please feel free to contact us at:
EastCoast Psychology & Psychiatry
Level 4, 9-13 Bronte Road,
Bondi Junction, NSW 2022