Four Ways to Navigate the New Abnormal

Dr. Jay Wagener

By Jay Wagener, Special to The Outlook

As we head further into our nation’s response to COVID-19, it feels like every day we are bombarded with an entirely new mass of information, including rules and regulations regarding how we are supposed to carry on our daily lives. Since these rules are mandatory, we are forced to adapt to these changing circumstances.
Two weeks ago we were planning vacations, going to movies, eating at restaurants, planning to graduate and going to work. One of my patients, who had lobbied for years to have a work-from-home week, told me he would give anything to go back to work for just one day. This new abnormal has become the new normal. COVID-19 has forced us to examine how we will adapt to a new way of being.
The way in which we adapt to these new circumstances is the challenge. Psychologists call the successful adaptation process “resilience.” The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, tragedy, threats of significant sources of stress such as serious health problems or workplace or financial stress. As much as resilience involves ‘bouncing back’ from these difficult experiences, it can also involve personal growth.”
In the midst of this situation where a lot of factors are out of our control, here are four ways to navigate this new abnormal with a resilient frame of mind.
Perspective reframing — Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Imagine the difference between feeling “I am stuck in the house” versus the mindset that “being at home affords me the time to check off some of my home project to-do list.” How you frame your situation will be the difference between psychological incarceration or a productive opportunity.
Patience — Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate the circumstances of the present with the belief that things will undoubtedly get better in the future. As Americans, we tend to be an impatient lot. We look for instant gratification. We want answers now. In the face of our current situation, trusting that life WILL return to “normal” in a believable time frame is the key to having patience during this uncertain time.
Planning — Americans love to plan. We schedule our Google calendars down to the minute, constantly planning for future gatherings, trips, concerts, etc. And we usually have the luxury of multiple options to choose from. Quarantine has left many people stuck in a morass of too much free time, too little structure and an uncertain time frame for future planning. The antidote to making it through this time may be to have a plan for every part of the day or even every hour. Block out your day with both “have to do’s” and the “want to do’s” like movies, time with the kids, game nights, video calls with friends and exercise. Having your day planned out will make it more tolerable than the alternative and will keep you excited about the blocks of time that are for enjoyment.
Prevail — One of the keys to making it through this difficult time is a little faith. The faith required is not complicated. It’s simply a belief that we will prevail through this uncertainty. You or someone you know has survived adversity and come out on the other side whole again. Even on the days when things feel hopeless, studies have shown that if you practice positive affirmations such as “I know things are going to be OK,” or “I have faith that we will get through this,” you can actually shift your neural physiology to be more resilient in threatening circumstances. Positive belief systems and affirmations also decrease stress levels, and we could all use a little less stress right now. Whether your “go to” is religion, belief in truth, or just trusting the bigger picture, having faith will help you keep calm and carry on.
Months from now when this new abnormal has given way to the boring old normal, these tools will help you emerge even more resilient in a world that may never look the same.

Jay Wagener is a licensed clinical psychologist and graduate of Stanford University who has practiced in Pasadena for 35 years.