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COVID-19: I'm not ready to go back to normal

The pressure to return to ‘normal’ after a collective trauma, like a pandemic or natural disaster, can be overwhelming. It’s ok to feel like you aren’t ready to go back.

Teen girl sitting against a wall that is covered with words related to socialising

When life has been different for a while

You might feel hope and excitement to go back to normal, but also fear and worry at the same time.

It’s very natural to find it hard to adjust after a stressful period of time! Here are some common things people struggle with:

  • Long-term behaviour changes. The longer people are in quarantine or isolation, the bigger the effects on their behaviours. For example, it’s normal if you find yourself avoiding big groups, or being fussy about hygiene.
  • Finances. Many people are experiencing economic consequences, which can really add to your stress levels.
  • Stigma. ‘Stigma’ is a negative and unfair belief others may hold about you. For example, there were many negative comments about people with compromised immune systems throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This could make people feel that society doesn’t care about them or that they don’t matter.

Research into the psychological impacts of quarantine and isolation has found that a range of feelings are normal, including: confusion, anger, anxiety, and depression. 

Our behaviour also changes as a result of social behaviour trends, and also fear of exposure. You might be experiencing insomnia, exhaustion, irritability or avoidance, e.g. avoiding school and crowded places.

You're not alone

Keep in mind that many other people share the same fears that you do. 

We asked you on Insta whether you were ready for things to go back to normal. 

39% of you weren’t ready yet. 

Here are some of the things you said!

How your brain deals with ongoing fear

Our stress response

Our stress response is how our brain reacts to danger in order to keep us safe. 

Research suggests that different threats push different ‘psychological buttons’. New and unfamiliar threats (such as a pandemic) raise our anxiety levels higher than more familiar threats do.

This may have to do with our amygdala - the part of our brain which processes emotions. It plays a role in detecting new things and processing fear.

Your brain is trying to protect you! That’s why you might be feeling anxious and stressed about returning to ‘normal'.

Lots of things have changed. Returning to ‘normal’ doesn’t mean going back to how things were, it means adapting to the ‘new normal’

"Are you finding it kind of tricky to chat with friends right now?"

Dealing with pressure and setting boundaries

You can choose what is and isn’t ok for you in the ‘new normal’. 

People might have an expectation that you will feel and act as you did before. They might pressure you to return to normal more quickly than you are ready, or to do things that make you feel uncomfortable, such as hanging out in a large group.

It’s important to know your boundaries.

Boundaries are the line between behaviours we are ok with, and things we aren’t ok with. There is no right or wrong because boundaries are personal.

How can I make it easier to return to 'normal'?

You are not responsible for other people’s actions – only your own. Here are some things you can do to feel a bit better:

  • Be kind to yourself. You are entitled to your feelings. It’s ok to feel different emotions about things going back to normal. You are human and it’s ok not to always feel your best. Engaging in some self-care and coping strategies can help! 
  • Focus on meeting your needs. This means reflecting on what you need in order to feel better. You can ask yourself questions such as: “What do I need right now?”, “How does this activity make me feel?”, “Is this what I want or I am only doing this for someone else?” 
  • Take things at your own pace. Everyone adapts to change at a different speed. Just because you might be adapting more slowly/quickly than those around you, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.
  • Know your boundaries. Be clear with others and establish what you believe is or isn’t acceptable behaviour.
  • Practice assertive communication. This means communicating your boundaries and values in a way that is both polite and firm.

You asked, we answered!

Kids Helpline Counsellor Amanda answers your questions about how to cope with going back to school and out in public, and how to deal with the pressure to return to 'normal' before you are ready.

If you’re worried about all the changes going on, you’re not alone.

Even when you don’t know how to express what you’re feeling, contact us and we’ll support you through it.

Give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email anytime, for any reason.

This content was last reviewed 08/05/2020

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