Strategies to Manage the Changes in a Post-COVID-19 world
This month’s column was originally going to be about healthy strategies to manage change in our lives. But I kept reflecting on all of the changes we have gone through in the past 15 months and now that things are starting to get back to pre-COVID-19 levels, there is a reluctance and hesitation among some to accept a return to the old way of life. So I decided to reflect on some considerations to help us come to terms with the profound alterations in our lives that have occurred as a result of living through a pandemic.
Acknowledge the collective trauma: The pandemic has affected all of our lives, whether you have gotten sick with COVID-19 or have lost someone to the illness. Viewing what were previously-normal scenes of large crowds gathering at sports venues or concerts now feels somewhat unnatural and even dangerous. Passing a stranger on the street was an ordinary act that turned into a potentially dangerous encounter where you kept your distance and hoped you wouldn’t unknowingly give someone a deadly disease.
This reframing of normal human interaction has been profound and the fact that it will take a while for previously normal encounters to become acceptable and safe again shouldn’t be ignored, ridiculed, or discounted. People who lived through the Great Depression carried with them the trauma of scarcity. Many continued practices of thriftiness for the rest of their lives even when it was no longer necessary. Practices such as reusing aluminum foil multiple times and never letting anything go to waste became ingrained habits to remind them of the devastation of the Great Depression on their lives. It is to be expected that some of us will express the collective trauma of the pandemic through continuing additional hygiene practices, mask wearing, and distancing while sick.
Recognize we are at different places in re-adjustment: During this pandemic, some of us continued to live normally, going into work, seeing friends, and going to appointments, albeit with some modifications such as wearing masks and keeping physically distant. Others barely left home, forgoing routine activities such as haircuts and dining out. People had their own comfort level and assessment of health risks. It is important for those who have continued on as normal to accept that others had very valid reasons for being more cautious, due to their own health concerns or those in their immediate family. Even with vaccines readily available, there are some who have not been vaccinated due to age, medical issues or buying into the paranoid rhetoric about the dangers of the vaccine . The heightened vigilance we all have taken to avoid getting the virus ourselves or transmitting it to others is hard to let go of overnight.
Accept that new practices will probably be here to stay (and that’s ok): There has been some talk that people will continue to wear masks years from now, particularly during flu season, a practice that has been routine in other countries for years. This practice is likely to stay around for a long time to come, Other practices including recording church services on video and having committees meeting on Zoom are likely to become permanent. People may also be more likely to stay home or away from others when they are ill. I am reminded of one of my co-workers who attended an in-person staff meeting in January 2020. They placed a mountain of cough drops on the table and had to repeatedly excuse themselves due to coughing fits. I had just gotten over a similar illness and became annoyed that someone showed up sick and could be infecting others at the meeting. Just a few months later, this co-worker became a zealot regarding the effort to contain COVID-19 and continues to be extremely wary of being around others and attending large gatherings, even after being fully vaccinated. I doubt that my coworker will ever again show up to work sick, no matter what.
Practice gentleness and kindness: As mentioned earlier, we all have different levels of comfort and trust as we start to resume normal life. People who are fully vaccinated may continue to wear masks because they are still uneasy being around others and want to be very sure that they do not spread the virus to others. It is important to remember that the pandemic experience has been very difficult for everyone. It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will jump back into thinking and acting normally after what we all have been through. Acknowledging and accepting this idea is very important as we slowly re-engage in pre-pandemic activities. When given the choice, choose gentleness and kindness with others as we get through this time no matter how long it takes.
Member of the HCT