Why "The New Normal" Should Scare You More Than Ted Bundy
What do you think of “The New Normal” post-COVID that everyone’s been talking about recently?
Coronavirus lockdown has been one of the most difficult, turbulent, and stressful times in living memory. And 2020 isn’t even over yet. What could possibly be around the corner? What is the new normal, and should you be worried?
Could 2021 be hiding just out of sight, wearing a balaclava and brandishing a switchblade, ready to leap out and mug you for everything you have?
Not only that, we’ve got a burgeoning mental health crisis and obesity pandemic on our hands. Can we go back to 2019, please?
Remember last year? Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all
Before all this happened, you were already working your butt off, staying late, taking your work home and checking your work emails at 11 o’clock at night.
Coronavirus lockdown changed how you work. Now you have the flexibility of working remotely so you don’t have to go into work. Awesome, right?
Not so fast.
Working from home definitely has its pluses. Like not having to commute. And being able to work more flexible hours. Nobody has to know that there are some people from work you’re happy to socially distance yourself from… the further the better, in fact.
Having a home office might be another perk. Although maybe having your bedroom doubling up as your office space isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep.
It just wasn’t quite what you had in mind when you wondered what it would be like to be location independent for work. You pictured yourself on a beach sipping cocktails with your laptop.
But does having a virtual job mean you’re virtually working?
When you work from home, it seems like you’re now expected to work even longer hours than before. It’s hard to maintain some structure in your day. You have to be extra-disciplined. Your day seems to get swallowed up with work, Zoom meetings, and trying to juggle all the things. Is this the new normal?
Frankly, you’re so grateful to still be able to work at all right now, you’re putting in even more effort than before. And you thought you’d maxed-out in 2019.
The great coronavirus lockdown incarceration. Is this the new normal?
Now that you’re sheltering in place and working out of your own home, you no longer have that oasis where you can separate home-life from work. With lockdown, it’s more hardcore than working from home used to be. Because even if you had wanted to go out, lockdown restrictions meant there weren’t many places you could go. You felt like a prisoner. House arrest with nothing to do but work, eat, drink and watch TV.
Work and personal life are all blending together. Like a nightmare smoothie recipe for high stress. One full of blood, sweat, kale, caffeine, and bits of fingers.
This is even more true because you’ve been home schooling, the grandparents have been shielding, day cares are shut, and there are no babysitters.
So it’s up to you and your partner to negotiate who’s turn it is to supervise the kids. You thought you’d been spinning all the plates before. Well, COVID-19 added a new layer of complexity.
Come September, you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen. We’ll most likely still be social distancing. But will schools and universities reopen? What about a second wave? When will it hit? Will schools shut again? Could coronavirus lockdown be reinstated? When can we travel again? The new normal is starting to sound unappetising and if anything, quite abnormal.
What has lockdown got to do with a cheese grater?
The uncertainty is starting to wear you down. Like an enthusiastic cheese grater.
Add to that the fact that you’ve no chance to enjoy a nice summer getaway. Your annual summer break was the thing that really helped you make it through in other years. Even if you brought your work with you.
But this year, thanks to lockdown, there’s been no respite at all.
Everyone’s talking about staycations. But are they really as good? And do you want to just go down the road for a week? More to the point, with work the way it is right now, can you afford to take time off?
What about job security?
Let’s face it. We all know that the economic downturn will bring job losses and many businesses will go under. Companies will want to get leaner. Early retirement and voluntary redundancies will be offered left, right and centre.
Is the new normal unemployment, job insecurity, and a huge paycut for all but the richest?
Sorry. I probably should have sugar-coated that a little. It’s a painful and petrifying reality.
There’s still going to be a lot of competition for coveted careers. How will they decide who to keep and who to let go?
Will it be last in, first out? Or will they look at how dedicated you are? Could the decision be productivity and results based?
What about work martyrs? If the optics suggest that you’re willing to work 80 hour weeks, weekends and skip annual leave, will you be more likely to be kept on?
What about if you’ve needed to take time off work for illness or stress? Will that be counted against you?
All these considerations tumble around in the back of your head, like T-shirts in a tumble dryer. On balance, it may be best to try to make yourself indispensable to help you survive the new normal.
Is the coronavirus lockdown an unethical, unsanctioned, uninformed psychological experiment?
Expect pandemics of burnout, work absenteeism, and mental illness to follow on the heels of this global catastrophe. Do you have a contingency plan?
This article lays out the evidence that quarantine can trigger depression, anxiety and fear in many. For years. And even as far back as April 2020 there were warning signs of increased stress behaviours in Europe.
It’s important that you know what to expect for your own mental health.
How will lockdown and the new normal affect your coworkers?
But here’s another angle. Even if you don’t end up suffering from burnout yourself, some or many of your colleagues will. And they’ll perform below their abilities as a result. Some of them will have to take time off work.
Not through laziness, stupidity, lack of caring, or anything else. But because this is what happens to people who’ve been stressed out for far too long, stripped of their support networks, isolated, and who have been living in fear for their lives.
Here’s hoping the new normal doesn’t mean burnout and mental illness for everyone!
Some will have lost family and friends. Not just to COVID, but also because:
- health care has been put on hold,
- new cancer diagnoses and other life threatening conditions have been missed,
- treatments have been postponed,
- people having heart attacks, suffering from sepsis and all sorts of medical emergencies have delayed attending hospital because of coronavirus fear and hysteria,
- and sick people have fallen through the cracks.
Plus there’s the fact that the overall health of the most vulnerable amongst us has been shot to ribbons by this entire experience for multiple reasons.
Personal relationships will have caved under the pressure of all of this. And many people you know will be going through nasty separations or fighting for their marriages and long-term relationships, too.
When your colleagues become too sick to work, what happens?
There is absolutely no way on earth that everyone is going to be capable of putting out their best work under those conditions.
Who’s going to have to pick up the slack? If you’re still standing, it’s going to be you, I’m afraid. Fingers crossed you get some temporary help. But you’ll still have to help train them and get them up to speed.
Is the new normal starting to feel overwhelming? Extra work with fewer staff and the spectre of job losses hanging over it all. Not my idea of normality.
Shelter in place orders are starting to ease up in many places. Is it time to relax?
Now there’s a gradual ease to the lockdown and it’s a blessed relief.
It’s hard to describe how nice it is to finally get outside and start doing a few normal things like getting back to the gym and meeting up with old friends and family. It’s that human contact that we’d all taken for granted until now. The connection that we all need.
At the same time, you’re cautious about reengaging in normal, healthy human contact. If your relationship with direct face-to-face contact was a Facebook status, it would be “it’s complicated.” You’re very aware it could turn around and walk right out on you all over again if there’s another lockdown. Sayonara, connection to sanity.
Social isolation really was tough, wasn’t it? But will you cope with the new normal?
With all that uncertainty you, like the rest of us, craved sitting down and having a good heart to heart with your friends and a nice hug.
2020 is one hell of a year.
No wonder you’re exhausted. Let’s face it, you’re frazzled. That’s ok. You’re in good company, because you know what? So are the rest of us.
And you know why.
We all have our own coping strategies. Some of them are good. Some of them are… well, not so good.
What happened to your coping strategies during lockdown?
But lockdown swept in like a giant broom and brushed almost all of the healthy ones right out the door, like garbage. Whether you wanted it to or not. To be fair, nobody wants their coping strategies erased, me included.
We have coping strategies for a reason. It’s so that we can cope with omnishambles like 2020.
Let’s look at what we’ve all been forced to relinquish:
- Free hugs when you’re feeling low? Not when you’re 6 feet apart and not allowed to breathe on each other.
- Getting down to the gym to sweat it out for a bit or at least pop into a class or 2 and look like you’re working out? Nope. Gyms were closed.
- Going for a massage, reflexology, aromatherapy, reiki, or a nice spa day? Heavens, no.
- Popping in to your hairdresser to get your roots done and hair styled or going to get your nails done at the beautician? Are you kidding? You couldn’t even get a hair cut!
- How about going to the shops for some retail therapy? At least there’s Amazon. But online shopping isn’t the same.
- Chilling out at the farmer’s market and hanging with your favourite local farmers and the regulars while sampling local foods and checking out the arts and crafts? (Yeah, that was my Saturday relaxation.) Sorry. No can-do.
- Enjoying creative pursuits, like listening to live music, visiting a gallery or a museum (you’re so cultured. I’m impressed)? No, no and no.
- Getting together with friends, family or colleagues for a coffee, drinks, dinner or any kind of celebration? Not on the cards.
- Expressing your spirituality and religion as part of a community and getting support there? Again, not an option.
- Getting outside into national parks and gardens to relax in nature? In many places those were closed and some still haven’t reopened. Even going to the beach was taboo.
What coping strategies did that leave?
Emotional eating and drinking have been many people’s crutches. So if you’ve found yourself reaching for the comfort foods and a glass or 2 of wine, know that you’re not alone. That seems to be the new normal, too.
It’s the boredom as well, isn’t it? It was especially tempting when you knew you didn’t have to get up and drive to work in the morning. Or you could work flexible hours, start later and finish later, right? So why not have an extra drink or 2 every evening?
If you were having trouble sleeping, you might have even tried drinking until you passed out.
Did you start lockdown with the best of intentions? Determined you weren’t going to get sucked under by the lure of junk food and booze?
Did you use lockdown to learn new skills?
Remember when everyone else seemed to be talking about lockdown being a great opportunity to learn new skills? How did that go? Yeah, thought so. I bet those people didn’t finish all those courses either. Great intentions and all that. But who has the time to learn origami and a new language?
Which brings me on to another popular coping strategy: getting sucked into the vortex of mindless TV watching and scrolling through social media. Sometimes simultaneously because you can multitask and you’re too tired to get up off the sofa at night to do anything else once you’ve sat down.
Have you noticed that some of your favourite TV series don’t seem to have a finale this year? They just ended while working up to something big because filming had to be halted due to lockdown. A frustrating part of the new normal is how uncertain you can be of being able to complete longterm projects.
So how are you doing now?
Well, the pounds have crept on, you’re feeling out of shape, and you’re worn out. You’re still overworked and overwhelmed. But now you’re also even more uncertain about the future.
The new normal for you and many others looks like it’s poor health.
It’s been a long time since you’ve had so many pounding headaches. You’ve been carrying the tension in your shoulders, so they ache. As do your neck and back. Your digestion is off and your sleep is not right. When you wake up in the morning, you feel anything but refreshed. It takes a few cups of coffee before you feel coherent.
“Can stress lower your IQ?” you mutter to yourself. Because you’ve got brain fog, you’re scatter-brained and you’re forgetting silly little things.
What happens with the new normal next? Can 2020 get any worse?
This relentless pressure can’t be good for you.
So much of what’s been going on is beyond your control. It’s hard to be optimistic. You’re a practical person and a realist.
But is your situation hopeless?
No. There is so much you can do to help yourself and those you love. There’s still a lot you are in control of. A post-pandemic world doesn’t have to be apocalyptic. You can be successful in managing your health and stress levels.
What can you do to get back on top again?
Let’s face it, you do want to feel on top of work. But you also want your life to be satisfying. It’s not that you expect to be stress-free. Like I said, you’re a realist.
But you would love to have your energy back again. And you have had enough of that incessant anxious feeling in your stomach.
Not only that, you’d love to feel good about yourself.
Right now, positivity is elusive and you’re feeling disappointed in yourself for eating so much junk food and gaining a few extra pounds in just a few months. You’ve even told your friends that you know you need to change but you need a kick up the backside.
What you really need is for someone to help you learn new coping skills.
And that includes learning about what the right foods to eat are to support your mental health and not just to help you lose weight. Coping skills and self-care absolutely include powerful stress management strategies. But stress management isn’t the be-all and end-all of coping skills.
To get you started, here’s an article I wrote about how to deal with anxiety. It’s not your average article on managing stress. It’s chock-full of helpful strategies and covers:
- Stress management,
- The right diet,
- Getting into nature,
- How to get a good night’s sleep, and
- Avoiding toxins
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it…
Is to take the curveball that is 2020 and turn it around.
Here are some quick pointers
Eat real food. Real food isn’t made in a factory. Instead it’s something that you prepare yourself at home from real ingredients. Whenever you buy ingredients you buy from a shop you should be able to replicate the process at home. For example, you could make tinned sardines in brine at home with a pressure cooker and some salt. But good luck trying to make canola oil from scratch.
Animal proteins should form the basis of your diet. Yes, that’s right. Meat is essential for your health. You’ll find that animal proteins are the top sources for practically all your vitamins, minerals, amino acids and omega 3 fats. In particular, focus on eating nose-to-tail and including pastured liver, bone broths, and small oily fish.
Even whole grains are exceptionally poor sources of vitamins and minerals. Limit or avoid grains completely. And you don’t need them for dietary fibre. Have you any idea how many types of edible fungi there are? Neither do I. But there are lots of medicinal mushrooms which are superb sources of healthy fibres and are very tasty. Be adventurous.
If you’ve put on a few pounds or stones during lockdown you aren’t alone. While it might be tempting to count calories and eat processed diet foods, this approach will compound the malnutrition you already have if you’ve been trying to follow government dietary guidelines. And malnutrition is terrible for your immune system as well as your mental and physical health.
Sheltering in place hasn’t made it easy for you to stay active, has it? But being sedentary is also horrible for your immune health. And regular movement helps us to be more creative, better at problem solving, and effectively fights depression and low moods.
How can you integrate more movement into your day? It’s even better if you can get outdoors in the middle of the day so you can improve your vitamin D status. This advice is absolutely crucial for people of colour in particular.
Can you walk, hike, cycle, garden, or go swimming outdoors? What other ways can you think of to enjoy outdoor activities even if you’re confined by a shelter in place order?
Did you know that loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more dangerous than obesity? It also may cause depression, suicidal behaviour, sleep disturbances, appetite problems, stress, anxiety, overconsumption of alcohol, and even makes people prone to Alzheimer’s.
We all know that loneliness is miserable. But during a time when government-sanctioned human rights violations are the norm, how can you remain connected with other human beings if you live alone?
Can you get together with family, friends, neighbours or coworkers while social distancing? You might be able to meet up outdoors.
You might even be able to volunteer. This is a great way to integrate into society in meaningful ways which are not frowned upon. Plenty of charities are trying to recruit volunteers. So if you have the time to do this seriously consider giving it a go.
Of course, there are also the obvious solutions where you stay in contact with people by phone and internet calls. Group chats and meetings with family and friends are manageable. Smaller groups of a few people tend to work better than very large meetings. You can meet up for virtual coffee.
Make self care a priority in the new normal
No matter what life, the new normal, and 2020 throw at you, you’ll be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and forge forward successfully again.
And you know what else? You’re not going to find your healthy coping skills in the bottom of a bottle. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a bottle of alcohol or a bottle of antidepressants. Neither of those are a cure for loneliness, stress, fatigue, or overwork. And they’re not going to set 2020 to rights either, more’s the pity.
Can you think of anyone who could really benefit from reading this? Who do you know whose 2020 is stressing them out? Why not share with them? Drop them in the comments below.