Navigating our way to a new normal
Updated: May 21
With the government announcing the roadmap for lifting lockdown, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of when life may return to an element of normality. Children returning to school, international travel, music festivals and reunions with friends and family are all being planned giving many something to look forward to after an extremely wearing year.
It is easy to get caught up in the excitement that many are feeling and a lot of us felt better just having some idea of when we can stop home schooling, meet friends for a chat, get that long overdue haircut, eat in a restaurant, indulge in some retail therapy or hit the gym again. But after a year of not being able to do all these things, there is bound to be a period of adjustment.
The roadmap has been published and important dates defined but how are we going to navigate to the big finish line of June 21st?
Recognise your reaction
So freedom is within sight! Schools, gyms, shops, offices, cafes, bars, restaurants and night clubs will all be opening again, if all goes well, in four months’ time. We’ll be able to meet and hug friends and family again. We’ll be able to network, date, work out and travel after a year of all these things being difficult, if possible at all.
So how did you feel when it was announced?
Excited? Lots of people are and it’s understandable. Living under restrictions for so long takes its toll and there are no surprises that most are buzzing about a return to freedom.
Relieved? It’s been a tough time for many, as I mentioned in my previous post, and living with the uncertainty of when life will be less challenging has had us holding our breath for a long time. I imagine there was a great number of people letting out a sigh of relief when the announcement came. Sometimes all we need is something definitive to look forward to to alleviate the discomfort of uncertainty.
Disappointed? Many were hoping the restrictions would be lifted sooner and the thought of another four months of hardship is a heavy burden emotionally, financially and practically. Conversely there may be some who believe the restrictions are being lifted too soon. Those who would prefer the government to take an even more cautious approach may have hoped we would be leaving lockdown later than early summer.
Pressured? If you’ve been on social media at all in the last week you've probably seen the memes and GIFs about people feeling panicked about getting in shape, losing lockdown weight gains, building that wasted muscle tone and sorting out those lockdown home haircuts before we get to see people in the flesh again. You can’t turn off the webcam function in real life and there’s a lot of social pressure to look presentable which many have enjoyed taking a break from this past year.
An emotion that enters many of the conversations I have in my line of work is anxiety and no matter which of the above camps you sit in, anxiety could still be present. With excitement comes those butterflies in the stomach, with relief comes the worry that that the dates may be extended, if you were feeling disappointed at having to wait so long you may be concerned about coping in the four months ahead, if you think the plan is too ambitious you may feel nervous about us having to revert to lockdown later in the year and if you’re feeling the pressure about getting back to public life, you may be wrestling with the anxiety of feeling judged.
Everybody is experiencing this situation in their own way and recognising how we feel about coming out of lockdown will help us adapt to the changes ahead.
Consider the new normal
Over the past year we have had to manage a great deal of change in a relatively short period of time. In response, some have felt resilient while others have struggled. Either way, to say life has been different for the majority is an understatement. Whilst we are looking forward to getting back to life as it was, there may be some changes that become more permanent as well as some of the consequences of the restrictions that we may find we miss.
Many businesses have embraced the idea of home working and will be looking at how this can continue beyond lockdown. For some this will be welcome news while for others they may be missing the social interaction and all-important differentiation between home and work life. Other employers may insist teams get back in the workplace despite business functioning the past year with home working. This may lead employees to seek alternative employment that better meets their personal preference.
For the past six months we have all had to wear face coverings while in public indoor spaces. Many have also been wearing them outdoors in busy areas. In some countries around the world this has been commonplace for years and while many used to find this unusual, I wonder if this will become part of daily life moving forward. Even if not to reduce the risk of catching covid-19, it may prove that wearing face coverings protects us from other airborne illness. I imagine there may be some who continue to wear face coverings beyond any government requirement to do so.
Social distancing has become part of everyday life and we are all affected by it psychologically. Does anyone else watch pre-lockdown movies or shows and think of the characters “well they aren’t social distancing are they?” Sometimes it takes us a moment to remember that life wasn’t always this way. Whether you’re walking down a high street or supermarket aisle, it’s nice that people, for the most part, are allowing each other space. As social distancing is lifted, are you ready for people to be in your personal space again after a year of actively avoiding others?
Change is something that we have become used to over the past twelve months and while many are looking forward to the restrictions being lifted, it is worth remembering that life may not go back to exactly as it was and then considering the aspects of life last year that you will be glad to see the back of and those that have worked out beneficial for you.
Be ready for change
Something we’ve all gotten used to be over the lockdowns is waiting and it looks like we have a bit longer to wait for the restrictions to be lifted.
Many of us experience feelings of impatience and often it feels like the more we are looking forward to something, the longer it takes to come around. There’s also the risk of us becoming complacent and sticking to the rules less. It is important we are mindful of these natural experiences as we enter the home stretch.
While most of us are looking forward to the restrictions being lifted in summer, it is important to remember that these are based on projected reductions in the spread of covid-19. We’ve already fallen victim to new variants and sudden outbreaks which have led to greater restrictions and it would be prudent to be prepared for last minute changes to the plan.
Without raining on the parade, it is important that we remind ourselves that each of the key dates issued by the government are best case scenario. This means there is room for adjustment and necessarily so.
Make plans tentatively and take a realistic approach in the knowledge that flexibility may be needed at short notice.
School’s in for Spring
The first step out of lockdown is the reopening of schools. While many parents are overjoyed that they won’t be relied on as much to ensure children are studying, I imagine it won’t be long before some feel they miss spending as much time with their children. Additionally, it’s often the case that once we are out of a stressful situation, things suddenly catch up with us in the form of exhaustion and emotional sensitivity. I would not be surprised if many parents experience this dip in the coming weeks.
On the flip side of that, it would be remiss not to spare a thought for teachers who have had to work remotely and manage classes, grade work and plan new timetables as well as keep an eye on pupils’ wellbeing from a digital platform. On top of this, their roles have involved educating and supporting parents through the pandemic all while having their work scrutinised by the public and press. Add to that the new responsibility of recommending final grades for pupils therefore determining their future prospects and it’s clear to see that an already stressful job just became more stressful.
Then there’s the kids themselves. Many have mixed feelings about returning to school and although sometimes more resilient and adaptable than adults, the nation’s children will undoubtedly experience a variety of emotions as they transition back to something resembling normal schooling. Social relationships will need to be reaffirmed, missed lessons will be made up and timetables will need to be gotten used to again. As Jo Holmes, BACP’s Children, Young People and Families Lead mentions in this article on the importance of children having access to the right support, pupils will need their wellbeing looked after as well as their studies.
Parents, I recommend a little extra self-care as you enjoy the end of the home schooling term. Teachers, as you return to face-to-face working with the added responsibility of managing social distancing rules in the classroom and playground, ensure you take time out for yourselves. It is important that both parents and teachers are prepared for a potentially rocky period with the children and try to encourage some down time and stability for them to offset all the change.
As the first step on the road to lifting restrictions, all eyes will be on how the reopening of schools affects virus transmission. For those directly involved in this; children, parents and teachers, go gently and be sure to make use of any wellbeing support and counselling you have access to.
Agree or disagree with it, we now have a clear structured path ahead of us albeit one that may yet change. With each key date I imagine we will be holding our breath as we wait to see if infection rates are affected and the next stage of lifting restrictions can continue as planned. For most, it feels great that we have hope on the horizon and the future is looking brighter but first we must navigate the next four months of gradual change as the world opens up and we shape our new normal.
My last post was about learning from previous experience. This one is more future orientated and in my next post I will begin exploring how we can maintain wellbeing but looking to the four months ahead, I invite you to consider;
How do you feel about the period of adjustment we all face?
Are you taking a flexible approach in case the roadmap is altered at short notice?
What will you take away and leave behind from lockdown to create your new normal?