Adjusting to the “New Normal”

by Lisa Green, LPC-MHSP

The Corona Virus pandemic has created an unprecedented season in the lives of almost everyone around the world, and all of us are now trying to get our bearings and figure out what life looks like moving forward. And while this has been referred to as adjusting to the “new normal,” it’s important to notice that it doesn’t and won’t feel normal… perhaps for a long time. This has been a season marked by change and uncertainty, and like any other major life transition, there are ways we can foster our resilience and take care of ourselves well.

In order to do this, it’s also important to realize the unique stressors this particular situation has created. Often times as foreign workers we experience transition, upheaval, illness, and even conflict in our countries that are difficult and stressful. We are also usually isolated in them to some extent, as the crisis in our host country is not also happening in our home country- much less in most countries around the world. This crisis has been different. This gives us an incredible opportunity for solidarity, but also an undeniable lack of a sense of safety, as there has been no place to escape the crisis, as those that have been experiencing the pandemic in the “comfort” of their home countries can attest. This situation is new indeed, and it is important to understand the stressors unique to it. We’ll consider those first, then address some specific ways to make adjustments and cope moving forward.

Stressors include:

Instability and uncertainty in many areas of life: Most of us have had totally new routines (or sudden lack thereof!) for the past 4+ months, and are trying to figure out now what it’s possible to go back to, what needs to look different, and what or how far ahead it’s even possible to plan for- from school, to travel, to gatherings and more. We don’t have all the information we normally use to make these decisions, and what the future looks like continues to be uncertain. We have had to let go of many of the plans, events, travel, or ministry that we have looked forward to without any sure sense of when they will be possible again.

Health concerns: People have varying levels of concern about their own health in response to the idea of being exposed to COVID 19, but the reality of the possibility of becoming ill ourselves as well as the potential to infect others is something that continues to sit with all of us. Perhaps people we love have been affected or infected, or at least are in a vulnerable population. 

Sense of safety interrupted: “Safe at home” has been the motto for so long, but as we venture into the world more, both by necessity and choice, and see numbers rising in many countries as a result we’re aware that the risk of illness to ourselves or others still feels very present in most places- not to mention the domino effect if someone close to us becomes ill. It has also become clear that people, both emotionally and realistically, have differing needs for a sense of safety, and these might clash among families, teams, fellowships, friend groups, etc.

Diminished social support: For more than 3 months, we’ve been meeting mostly virtually, and though many people have begun to gather again in small groups, the reality of our normal social and community rhythms has been vastly interrupted. While we’re all grateful for Zoom, it doesn’t feel the same as being with someone in person- we’re so aware of this in counseling work! Celebrations, vacations/trips, fellowship times, team or even regular social gatherings have been and continue to be impossible, limited, or just different. Even for us mega-introverts, this has taken a toll!

Possible effects to financial support: A struggling economy often means diminished finances for those that are support-based, and economies all around the world have been affected. This creates stress and uncertainty, and has possible implications on our abilities to do our jobs or continue projects that have been envisioned or even begun.

“COVID brain”- This is a term Olive Tree staff coined to refer to the effects of all the above stressors, combined with all the time in front of our computers. COVID brain includes lower energy/motivation, poorer concentration, foggy brain, losing track of time, and “losing your words” or ability to articulate thoughts, and a shorter fuse. It’s clear, stress has an effect on the brain!

 

Healthy responses include:

Establish some routine: If you’re still without any sense of routine or schedule, it’s time to give yourself some structure. Routine is a key to fostering a renewed sense of normalcy, choice, and familiarity that our lifestyles would normally provide. While some of these things need to be of the “get things done” variety, some of these things should be enjoyable! For instance, if Saturdays used to be days for getting the kids to team sports, meeting up with a group of friends or fellowship, laundry day, or just recuperating from the week, perhaps now it’s a good time for a big family breakfast, or a bread making day, or a day to sit a little longer with your morning coffee and write in your gratitude journal.

Put some serious thought into what self-care looks like right now: If you had a rhythm and understanding of what self-care looked like in “normal” life, good for you! Chances are both your needs and opportunities for this have changed over the past months, and it’s time to re-evaluate both of those. One of the things that might be easy to overlook is rest. Sitting around the house all day doing very little is actually quite different from the rest I mean- which is setting up your day/week with the intention of both relaxation, and nurturing your spirit, soul, and body.

Maybe this means taking a break from any screens for a day/weekend. Perhaps it means giving yourself several hours to sit with your Bible, an inspiriting book, and/or a journal. If you have young kids, try exchanging mornings with your spouse so one of you gets the morning free, while the other takes care of the kiddos, then vice versa. Practice some gentle yoga or stretching to let your muscles relax from all the shoulder-hunching while sitting still and scouring the internet for the perfect sourdough recipe or obsessively reading the news.

Allow for your “normal” to look different than it did before: We’re still in an adjustment and transition phase, and I can think of few people who have been able to go back to life as it was before- and that’s ok. Over time, this will even out and the ability to make plans and find stability and familiarity will return. But maybe we’ve learned some new things in this season that need to be applied to life moving forward, and are finding new ways to innovate in ministry life, family life, and our personal growth. Maybe that innovation is even a new value for slowing down a hectic lifestyle, or having enjoyable hobbies, or prioritizing family time in our schedules.

Find your support system again: It might not look the same as it did before, but it’s time for most of us to start interacting with people outside our homes and offline again. We can do this in responsible ways, but as people, we need to re-engage with both in-person and long-distance support, social interaction, and fellowship.

Grieve what you’ve lost: Even if this season has been less stressful for you than your normal lifestyle, and certainly if it hasn’t, we’ve all suffered many losses throughout the past months- a canceled vacation or conference that was highly anticipated, or the time in your host country as you’ve waited out the crisis in your home country. We’ve lost some ability to make solid plans, or to be with people we love and value in person, to meet as a fellowship, and even the ability to hug people we care about. Some have lost a sense of momentum in work, discipleship, or ministry. Allow yourself to acknowledge and grieve these losses.

Allow the Lord to make beauty from the ashes: While it’s not really something we have to give God permission to do, intentionally allowing ourselves to look for and notice signs of this can be a powerful in regaining perspective in the midst of the uncertainty. Ask yourself- how can I notice that God has shown up for me in this season? How do I see him working now? One of the best ways I know to do this is to look for opportunities for gratitude. Spend a little time each day noticing and acknowledging 3-5 things you are grateful for that day, write them down, and thank God for his goodness as you notice them.

Ultimately, in this new season of transition, adjustment, and rebuilding, it is important to give yourself space to notice what has been and what continues to feel difficult, strange, and uncertain. Then make a plan for establishing the practices and accessing the support that will help you continue to get through this challenging time. And if counseling might be a part of that, remember that Olive Tree is here to serve you.