The new normal

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

One of the biggest challenges that people have faced through this crisis is adapting to "the new normal". The term Social distancing is a term which has leaped into our regular vocabulary, where as before there was the equivalent of around 2 meters between the two words being used together.

The term "New Normal" in itself is something which can and will have an affect on your mental wellbeing. This is understandable. It is the fact that it feels like your freedom is restricted from what has been before. When you used to be able to just run into a supermarket when you had an urge for a donut, and complete this transaction in seconds, it is now a carefully stage managed process. It almost feels as if you're trying to reach the holy grail, and not just a holey baked good. I have some fears of how this might progress, but for now I try and make light of it...

There are lines on the ground. Carefully managing where you can stand and walk. To be honest, I turn this into a little game. It's like being Super Mario. slowly advancing around the "levels" which are the aisles of the supermarket. Hoping that there are no obstacles in the way to stop you advancing from the turmoil of the ketchup aisle and allowing you to move to the excitement of world foods. But alas! There's someone in the box just in front of you. What do you do. They are standing, perusing the soup. When you really need into that shelf. As they stand and consider their purchase for longer and longer. You slowly advance towards the shelf. You're in THEIR BOX! They turn. You look at each other. Then. It's time. The awkward side shuffle and apology. You pick up your tin and you advance onto the next box, you've achieved success. You leave the Soup-peruser in their little box as they continue to consider what a mulligatawny actually is.

Although the new way of shopping in little segregated boxes seems like we are being told "Positions, and action" almost as if we're in the latest poorly written BBC Soap (I mean, who'd want to take part on this storyline!) it is refreshing to see people turn and apologise if they're taking up a space that you need to move into.

That said however, my big fear is that when this is over that that the term "Social Distancing" becomes a defence mechanism for people who want to try and keep people away from them. It becomes a way for people to mask being rude, ignorant and simply obnoxious. I hope I've made this clear what I'm saying, but, I honestly could see people barking "Social Distancing" if you're standing in a queue and they perceive you being too close to them. That is one of my biggest anxiety worries. Don't get me wrong, I like to think of myself as quite confident, outgoing and can handle people well, but I honestly do fear for the future of social interactions between people once this all passes.

Will we permanently socially distance ourselves? Are we breeding a generation of people that will be increasingly socially awkward? Will my ability to be outgoing and pleasant towards people be seen negatively? If you're like me this too will be something which might adversely affect your mental wellbeing.

Along with this, there is the growing fear of not knowing how things that just can't be socially distanced are actually going to work. Are the holidays you used to enjoy going to be hampered by a reluctance to be near to other people? Or even over enforced social distancing measures.

I love theme parks. Orlando is one of my favourite places in the world, but in my heart of hearts I cannot see how the experience of the big places over there owes itself to a socially distant future. How can I hug a minion from 2 meters away? I need my minion hugs.

What about beach holidays? It's all very well distancing yourself from others on the beach, many do it already! But, are you to tread carefully as you frolic in the sea? Can you yell "Social Distancing" to the waves as they lap you closer and closer to another family bobbing about on their inflatable flamingo?

These concerns are totally normal to feel anxious about. We are constantly told that "life as we know it will change". For me, this is a dangerous statement. It's a statement that is open ended and ambiguous. Granted, we can't tell how things are going to go, but for someone with anxiety issues, it only throws fuel on the uncertainty fire.

What I'm saying is, while we don't know whats around the corner. This uncertainty is temporary. One day all this will sort itself out, and we'll look back on it and take positives on how we all got through it. The things that were uncertain about the things that we liked to do will be certain. We'll return to a new life with a degree of caution. (Note I didn't say that we will be alert....;) ) As long as we all remember to be kind to each other, to support each other and to recognise the challenges we've all been through, and recognise how apprehensive some may be to return to "normal" after this, we'll all end up mentally healthier for it.

I've focused a lot on personal feeling of anxiety and uncertainty, but to bounce right back to a work focus, The job we do - it's incredibly hard to maintain social distancing. Whether you're in ACC at a desk, or scooting about the country in a frontline A&E vehicle or a PTV. While we can try some fixes for little things, and this is great and goes some way to keeping us and our families safe, one thing to ensure we still have is a support network point of view.

Don't let a perspex barrier or a distant desk be a barrier to you getting support if you need it or are struggling. Don't let the fact you have to sit separate to your colleagues on your breaks stop you discussing issues. Social distancing IS going to be one of the biggest threats to mental well being as we progress through this. It's a necessary evil. While we need to do it for our physical health, the detriment to our mental health is a very real problem. So I'd like to close with these thoughts.

While there are measures (barriers if you will) being put in place to help protect our physical health, lets do the reverse and break down the barriers to our mental health and wellbeing.

  1. Make a point of talking to colleagues. As hard as it may seem some times, try to maintain that personal contact with your colleagues. It goes a long way to normalising what is a troubling and challenging situation. Whether you've attended a call which was particularly harrowing, or you've been speaking to a patient that shook you. Take the chance to turn to a colleague and talk to them. The importance of our mental health in these times cannot be underestimated, and in truth, if our mental health declines, the effects on our physical health can be catastrophic.

  2. Try not to worry about the future. It's easier said than done, but what lies in the future is unknown for us all. Lets ride out this storm together, but, it's not unreasonable to talk about your concerns. Discussing how you feel about the future is normal and right. Getting to know how others feel can help downplay your fears, and can go a long way to supporting each other.

  3. Recognise if your colleagues are struggling or shutting off. I guess this is particularly relevant to office based or control based people who are sitting largely segregated when they didn't before. If your colleague is appearing distant, is deliberately sitting away and shutting off, there could be a reason for it. There might not be. Isolation can work both ways. For some it's one of the best ways to cope, but for many it can fuel feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, but don’t be afraid to ask.

  4. And finally, remember, we're all in this together. Social distancing should NOT be a barrier to us looking out for each other. It shouldn't become a weapon or a tool to shut off or push people away. If you see people being increasingly distant, remind them of the importance of the word "social". Be social. Be together. Support each other. Things will get better, but only if we support each other. Otherwise, once the physical pandemic dissipates, we will be in the midst of a mental health pandemic, and that could be one of the worst of all.

"Social" is defined as "needing companionship and therefore best suited to living in communities" or "relating to or designed for activities in which people meet each other for pleasure.". But the most powerful definition according to the dictionary is this:

"living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation "

That in itself is powerful. Social distancing is harbouring isolation, when the word "social" in itself encourages quite the opposite.

So, let’s not isolate from others. Safely look out for each other. Keeping open is the best thing we can do... even if it is from 2 metres.

Darren Miller

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