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When “Normal” Isn’t: Adapting to Change in the Time of COVID-19

August 25, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on in many parts of the country, the definition of “normal” feels like it’s shifting at light speed. States and counties are entering different phases of reopening. Businesses are deciding when, how, and even whether to transition out of work-from-home. School districts, teachers, and parents are trying to determine what the 2020-2021 schoolyear will bring. All of these factors make it difficult to adjust, make plans, or know what to expect from our home lives, workplaces, and society.

But adapting to change doesn’t have to feel painful or impossible. Here are a few tips and mindset shifts to help you better handle the current uncertainty and adapt to the “new normal.”


Evaluate your habits and routines

Routines provide us with a sense of comfort, consistency, and stability. During times of uncertainty, having solid routines is more important than ever. However, some of the routines and habits that helped us thrive during the “old” normal of our pre-COVID-19 lives might not serve us as well in these times of rapid change.

Take some time to evaluate the habits and routines you currently have in place. Are you trying to do things exactly the way you did them before? Is the pressure to maintain or rebuild your old routines helping you adapt to the evolving new normal, or is it adding more stress? What new behaviors, routines, or schedules could you adopt to better support you as you navigate an unknown future? These can include necessities, such as work, chores, and childcare, but don’t forget to establish self-care routines as well. From exercising and getting enough sleep to engaging in hobbies, making time for yourself is key in managing stress and anxiety!


Be flexible

Establishing routines doesn’t mean setting them in stone, however. The world with COVID-19 remains a place of rapid and sudden change, so it’s important to stay flexible so you can react and adapt more quickly and easily.

One way to help build your mental and emotional flexibility is to shift from a “do-it-all” mindset. While some things, like eating and sleeping, are clearly non-negotiable, there are likely things on your daily or weekly to-do lists that aren’t essential. Practice splitting your lists into “must-do” tasks and “would-be-nice-to-do” tasks – things that won’t lead to any major consequences if you don’t get to them. Removing the pressure of trying to accomplish everything will allow you both mental space and actual time to be flexible and adapt as new needs come up.


Educate yourself – to an extent

It’s human nature to want to know what the future will bring. And in many instances, knowledge can be a powerful weapon against the stress and anxiety produced by uncertainty. So spend some time educating yourself about the current situation in your life and in the world. Some important questions to ask in the coming weeks and months could include:

  • What phase of reopening is your state currently in, and what does that actually look like for your life?
  • Will your company be continuing work-from-home options or expect staff to return to in-person work? What will an in-person work environment look like?
  • Do your office/workplace and your children’s schools have a plan in place for a presumed or confirmed COVID-19 case?
  • If your child will be returning to school in person, what safety measures does the school have in place? If learning in the fall will continue to be virtual, what will be expected from students and their caretakers, and how will that impact your childcare needs?

However, it’s also important to realize that too much information can be a bad thing. With our 24-hour news cycle and endless social media platforms, it’s easy to find ourselves obsessing over the news and watching our devices for the latest notification. Set limits on the amount of time you spend reading and researching COVID-19-related information so you don’t reach analysis paralysis.


Focus on what you need now

This goes hand-in-hand with limiting your time spent reading the news and scrolling social media. While it’s important to have information, it’s unrealistic to expect to know everything right now. Instead of obsessing about the answers you don’t currently have, try to focus on what you can currently control and on what you need to know and do today.


Ask for help

While much of the country remains physically apart, we do not need to go through these times of change alone. Give yourself permission to reach out to others and ask for help when you need it. Ask your partner to take care of the kids for an evening so you can have some me-time. Ask your friend to stop calling every night just to complain about the latest news. Ask your supervisor or HR department for a flexible work schedule or continued work-from-home status, if that makes most sense for you and your family.

And this includes asking for professional help. If you or a loved one are experiencing significant anxiety or other mental health conditions, don’t hesitate to reach out to a medical professional, such as those included in your EAP benefits.


And finally…

While we are certainly in a time of unprecedented unknowns, it’s important to remember this: change is an inherent part of life. The more we resist change, the harder we make things on ourselves. If, on the other hand, we can learn to accept uncertainty and roll with the punches, we become more mentally and emotionally resilient and better able to handle whatever life throws at us next.


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