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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 totally normal to feel like you aren’t ready to grow through the changes.

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

When life has been different for a while

Sometimes there can be pressure to return to ‘normal’ or pretend like everything hasn’t changed!

It might come from your friends, family or teachers. You might feel hope and excitement to go back to normal, but also fear and worry at the same time. Sometimes things can’t or won’t go back to how they used to be... and that’s tough.

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

    • Long-term behaviour changes: The longer people are isolated or the bigger the change, the more it can impact their behaviours. For example, you might avoid going back to school, hanging out with friends, or walking past your old neighbour.
    • Finances: Many people are experiencing economic consequences, which can really add to your stress levels.
    • Guilt and worry: After something big has happened, it’s easy to worry about what we could have done to change or stop that thing from happening. It’s important to not beat yourself up when thinking about the ‘what ifs’.
    • Displacement: During floods or bushfires, a lot of people must leave their home and be away from their community, friends, family, and school. You might miss your old home, feel lonely or that you don’t have a place to belong.
    • Grief: When your life has been turned upside down, you can grieve the old times (grief is the feeling that happens after the loss of something or someone that means a lot).

    How your brain deals with ongoing fear

    Our stress response is how our brain reacts to danger to keep us safe – and it can make you feel cautious about ‘going back to normal’ before you feel safe and ready.

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

    This is due in part to 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'.  But don’t worry - your brain can also change and grow stronger. 

     Returning to ‘normal’ doesn’t mean going back to how things were, it means adapting to the ‘new normal’ 

    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 set some boundaries?

    Boundaries are like rules that you make to stay safe, happy, and in charge of how you feel. It's okay to decide what works best for you!

    Here are some boundaries you might make for you or others to follow:

    • Media exposure: Decide when and how much time you spend watching or reading about the disaster. Try switching off your phone or the TV if the content makes you worry a lot.  
    • Your space: Tell your family or friends when you want to talk or when you need time alone to think about your feelings. This might include asking for privacy in your room or asking not to be interrupted when watching a movie that makes you feel good.  
    • Social boundaries:  Decide how comfortable you feel about spending time with other people. This might mean saying no to events related to the disaster or letting your friends know that you don’t always feel up to replying on social media.  
    • Helping the community: If you have a lot on and someone asks for more, it's ok to say, "I can't right now." This might mean deciding when and how much you help the neighbourhood.  
    • Work and play: If you have schoolwork or chores, make sure you also have time for the things you enjoy doing. This might mean asking for breaks so you can relax.  
    • Ask for help: If you are finding it hard to create a ‘new normal’, try setting a boundary with yourself to talk to someone you trust or us, Kids Helpline. 

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

    Sometimes things won't go back to normal as you knew it – but it may be that you need to find a new kind of normal.

    This can be tricky and take some time. So, here are some things you can try when you want to start adapting to this change:

    • 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 am I 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.

    When might the pressure to return to ‘normal’ be too much?

    How to tell if you might need support:

    • Sleep problems or fatigue  
    • Panic attacks or difficulty breathing  
    • Aches and pains (muscle aches, chest pains or headaches) 
    • Frustration or moodiness 
    • Low self-esteem, sadness, or worthlessness  

    If any of these things keep happening it might be a sign you need to reach out... to your parents, friends, teachers or us, Kids Helpline.  

    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 18/10/2023

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