Coping in Isolation: The New Norm


The New Norm

By: Jessica Satya Graha

Edited by: Sophie He

These past two years merely seem like a blur. A time when the days seem so long yet a year seems to disappear in the blink of an eye. We wake up and dread the continuation of a monotonous routine as all the hours, days and months seem to blend into one. Are we still in 2020? Or have we moved onto 2021? Wait no. 2022. Or is it simply 2020 ... too...

When the pandemic first began, it was difficult to adjust to the isolation. 54% of Australians reported increased feelings of loneliness as restrictions came into place, constrained to the confines of our homes, limited in our routines (Lim et. al 2020). But now we face a whole new challenge: the big transition back into the real world.

Transitioning into a new world

It seems almost ironic, the anxiety we may feel. In the beginning, some of us felt distressed by the amount of restrictions protecting us from the virus. However, as soon as restrictions slowly lifted, many of us felt apprehensive about stepping outside again, having become conditioned to and succumbed to the comfort of remaining in our homes. A survey by Fineberg et al. saw 25% of participants reporting significant adjustment difficulties to life post lockdown.

At the same time, the challenges of the last few years have also brought a sense of unity to our communities, a sense of camaraderie as we all persisted through difficult circumstances. Yet, COVID has also led to lost friendships, diminishing social skills and feelings of loneliness. A 2020 study by Brooks et al. published in The Lancet found that periods of isolation of even less than 10 days, can have significant long-term effects on mental health. Despite constant chatter and updates on social media, conversations in real life remain few and far between and are sometimes superficial at best. Our friendship circles have also diminished in size as COVID lockdowns have done some culling on our behalf.

Now half-way through 2022 and looking back on our transition into a 'post-COVID world', it is understandable why so many of us felt uneasy about adapting to the new normal. As humans, we are resistant to change. It is a primal response to fear the loss of what feels comfortable. In addition to this, forming and maintaining meaningful relationships is a difficult skill that comes with practice. And we are certainly out of practice. It was always inevitable that some of our relationships were going to dwindle during the lockdowns and it is now going to take some amount of effort to rekindle those relationships.

What does this new world mean for us?

This new world where we are in a hybrid model of connecting with others in-person and digitally means that we are still in contact with less people than before. It puts many at risk of still feeling lonely despite the lifting of restrictions. Despite these challenges, this new world also gifts us the knowledge that the time we spend with our family and friends is meaningful, cherished and special. That the people who remain close to us during tough times are our biggest supporters. This new world has rewarded us with small moments of joy; sharing a meal at the dinner table, going grocery shopping without a mask, hugging our loved ones, and my personal favourite: my GP saying 'I miss giving lollies to children after their immunisation to stop them from crying'. This new world has returned to us, the things that we may have taken for granted in the past, allowing us to be fully grateful for what we do have.

However, gratitude is only a small piece of the puzzle of our individual and societal recovery. The pandemic has increased our rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD and stress (Xiong et al.). Now more than ever, we need to advocate for our mental health and ask for help when we need it, we need to be proactive in keeping in contact with friends and family and we also need to expect effective governmental interventions to help mitigate the lasting effects of the last few years. 

As we transition into this new normal, we grieve what we have lost and hold tightly onto what we still have. And we are fortunate to be able to look back on this difficult period whilst walking towards the future with a renewed sense of gratitude, purpose and hope. 

How have you coped during this transition period?