Welcome to Normal webMarch 17 
Day One of Quarantine:
  "I'm going to meditate and do body-weight training."
Day Four:
  *just pours the ice cream into the pasta*
Troy Johnson (@troyjohnson)

There have been many Tweets about COVID-19 over the past few weeks, but this one, from the San Diego-based writer Troy Johnson is my favorite. The past four weeks have been a time of head-spinning change and unthinkable disruption of our daily lives. Many of us have already shared Mr. Johnson’s experience of devolution from our initial, excessive expectations of self. Most of us have a new BFF, Zoom. Both in formal meetings and in other conversations over these past few weeks, I’ve noticed a recurring phrase, the new normal.

So, just what does the new normal mean? For most of us, struggling to adapt to a sudden change in our established routines, the natural approach is to jump into action at top speed, focus on the things that seem urgent, and think of this current state as the new normal. But while we do all of that, we also ask the question, “When will it end?”

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Aisha Ahmad, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, deals the dope slap to our question. She states that the answer “…is simple and obvious, yet terribly hard to accept. The answer is never.”

Dr. Ahmad goes on to point out that our current crisis is global in nature and will have an impact on the scale of a major war. Our world has changed and it will never be the same again. She speaks with authority since she has experience in these matters, having lived and conducted research in the setting of war and disaster in multiple sites. She advises us “to prepare to be forever changed.”

Adjusting to our new circumstances and preparing to be changed will be a process. Although the change was abrupt, our adaptation will require some time. First, we have to adjust to our new reality, whether it is “normal” or not. Initially, this process is really a shift to survival state. We need to make sure that we and our loved ones are safe and secure. Most of us have done the lion’s share of that work by now. (We’ve certainly bought all the toilet paper we could find!) But there are a couple of important elements that may require a reminder.

First, we all need to prepare our homes and families for emergencies. In addition to food and other essentials, we need to address the tough realities of how we will manage things if someone in the household gets sick, or worse. Play out each scenario, with sensitivity. As we practice social distancing, we also need to maintain connections with family, friends and neighbors. We will all need the support of others (i.e., a team) in order to respond to some of our challenges and to survive the prolonged period of detachment.

The world has changed; so we will need to change our perspective. One of the important initial components of that adjustment in perspective is to reassess our expectations, both of ourselves and of others. Most of us take pride in rising to meet a challenge. Nonetheless, the reality is that we all have been severely stressed, and all of us are at least a little bit off our game. I haven’t slept well for the past several weeks, and I find concentration more difficult. I am more irritable than usual. (At least my spouse seems to think so.) Take stock of where you are, and accept that reality. Don’t add to your stress by setting unreasonable expectations. You may not crank out a new grant or paper even though you have some extra time on your hands.

Concrete goals for healthy eating, rest and exercise are great. Keep in mind, however, that while staying fit is a fundamental aspect of overall wellness, you shouldn’t try to advance your physical activity too rapidly. (Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.) Most of all, accept what is, where you are, and the fact that you did not create the situation. Don’t guilt yourself. Soon enough, we will all recover from the initial shock and adjustment, and we will return to a higher level of functioning.

Finally, acknowledge that the new normal exists, but it is somewhere in our future. Once we have accepted that things have changed, we can look to the future and embrace the excitement of life and work in the new world order. This change will continue to present new challenges, and it will also offer new opportunities. Your skills and creativity will be needed to help form that new normal. As Dr. Ahmad states, you will share “…your wisdom born of suffering. Because calamity is a great teacher.”

April 9, 2020