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What is ‘the new normal?’

By Darren Miller

A lot has happened in the world since I last wrote a blog and thanks to the success of the vaccination programme, we are moving ever closer to getting a sense of greater “normality”.

But with the move to “normal”, there’s a few things to consider. Firstly, what is “normal” now? And secondly, are you ready for it?

If you’re feeling apprehensive about it, that’s ok. The past 18 months or so have been an incredibly unique situation. We’ve essentially seen our world shut off. Our borders closed. Even our own homes closed off to friends and family. We’ve all experienced some degree of isolation throughout this. Not just slight isolation, but for a lot of people it’s been prolonged and incredibly harsh and challenging.

We’ve found ourselves in a situation where the extroverted have been forced into being introverted. The socially mobile have been made immobile, and the outgoing have been nailed down. People you’d meet in the flesh regularly become just faces on a computer screen. The stream of negative messages, the one step forward-two steps back has driven some who hadn’t experienced anxiety and low mood into a state of uncertainty of what’s next.

But what’s also important to recognise is that for everyone that was impacted negatively by the restrictions, there may be some who were impacted positively.

There are people who find comfort in seclusion. They are happy in their own space, and are more comfortable with less people and stressors around. The restrictions facilitated the ability to live a life that they previously couldn’t comfortably, and for these times their anxieties and fears were able to be managed much more effectively.

That’s where the emerging threat of “Reopening anxiety” comes in.

Reopening anxiety can affect people in different ways depending on how they’ve been affected throughout the pandemic. In fact, those who hated a restricted lifestyle at first might have now embraced it and see the return of “normal” as something to fear.

It is ok to feel a bit anxious about it, Arthur Begman, Psychologist states that “Reopening anxiety is the result of a cocktail of stressors and triggers which combine to create a feeling of genuine fear and panic in the sufferer and experts agree that we should be prepared for significant numbers of the population to be suffering its effects.”

Some of the key reopening anxiety stressors include the fear of de-masking. If we remove masks will I be at risk? The fear of social interactions – What if I don’t want to shake hands or hug? The fear of personal space invasion – What if I was quiet happy with people being 2m away from me?

It’s important to recognise that you’re absolutely not alone in this. There’s a belief that someone will have at least one anxiety triggering stressor as we move towards “normal”.

So, how do we deal with this?

To be honest, it’s not quite as simple as some mental health issues, because, well, everyone has experienced the pandemic in different ways. I’ve said before we’re not all in the same boat, but we’re in the same storm. Some have sturdy yachts, some have rickety unstable rafts, and some are drowning. What is a stressor and a problem for you, might not be for someone else. In fact, like I have mentioned before, some people who previously hadn’t had any form of exposure to mental illness may have experienced some degree of it through this pandemic.

What is important to do is to discuss your fears and anxieties. We find ourselves in an incredibly unique situation where there doesn’t appear to be a right way or a wrong way to emerge from this. There’s suggestions, but with such an unprecedented situation everyone is going to recover in their own way. There isn’t a “one size fits all” suggestion on how to emerge comfortably from this, because the reality is the definition of “normal” has changed dramatically forever.

As we do emerge the best thing we can do is recognise each other’s fears and limitations and support each other through them. We should recognise that we are all unique. Social interactions are likely to be strange, awkward and different for some time as some emerge at different paces. The world is going to feel odd and challenging for some. In fact, the “end” might just be the “beginning” for some as a whole world of other anxieties and fears get unleashed.

What we can do though is use the future as just that. The future. Put the past behind us as best as we can, use what we’ve experienced to learn and look to the future to embrace whatever normal we find is OUR normal. A positive mind set is key to suppressing anxieties over reopening. It’s never going to work for everyone, as I said, we’re all unique.

You’ll know by now that I’m a sucker for some quotes or lyrics. There’s two that I want to share with you to round this off. As we advance into a new phase.

First, a song called “Ready” by Kodaline. (The video is brilliant by the way, well worth checking out).

“Follow what you're loving, love what you do, Never let the pressure tell you that you're not Capable of anything that you want!”

We have been under immense pressure with a huge expectation on each of our shoulders, not just as an ambulance service, but as a human race. I think these words are incredibly important today. As we move towards a new tomorrow, it’s an opportunity to make days count. It might have felt that through the pressure of the pandemic and the level of expectation on you to go through it that you are inadequate or will never prosper. But, the reality is you can and will.

Which takes me on to the next one. These are the words of One Republic.

“I owned every second that this world could give I saw so many places, the things that I did Yeah with every broken bone I swear I lived”.

Make your time count. It is hard just now to feel like things count, but they do. Live for the moment. If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that life is too short. That we should never take for granted the things that we can easily see and do. We should embrace our friends and families. We should live.

Make your normal, the new normal.

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