Back to normal: Why we should accept that this will not happen

It has become a good ensemble for our politicians, officials, experts, even family, such as one last, elusive award.

Perhaps it is indifferent to the world of January, a place where daily life was closer than in our previous decades. Perhaps this is a bid to show control, to go back to a time when change was not universally imposed on us.

But January is long gone, and it is not coming back. And, psychologists will tell you, it’s only bad if you can’t come to terms with it.

If changes are permanent this year, then we are slowly learning. If work – for the fortunate among us – will remain from home. If we go to the grocery store, but spend more. If we would be wearing masks on the metro to be just part of life. If handshake and hug will become less common. If most of your daily interactions would be via video conference (rather than in person).

“Five months of change in six months” is a common slogan of the epidemic. The disruption has sustained the lives of lost servants and relatives who live alone or perhaps die without saying the right goodbye.

Psychologists say that it is not necessary to permanently deteriorate since January. This danger comes from reworking the normalcy, rather than how to deal with what lies ahead.

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“Politicians who claim to be ‘normal’ around the corner are fooling themselves or their followers, or perhaps both,” Thomas Davenport, Specialist in Information Technology and Management at Bubson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts Professor.

“Those who suffer tragedy eventually return to their previous level of happiness,” Davenport said via email. “But I think COVID-19 is a little different, because we expect it to be over soon. So there’s no need to permanently change your perspective about it.”

The human tendency to change is temporary and that the future will again resemble the past, often referred to as a “general bias”.
Those who are not suited to change believe that what they remember as “normal” will return, and delay modifying their daily routines or attitudes. Those who refuse to wear masks may be guilty of general prejudice, Davenport said, because they consider this intrusion a passing fad in life because they do not have to be embraced.

Worked hard to adapt

The circuitry of the brain prefers to survive, however: While part of our brain may be inclined to resist change because we think disasters are a passing phenomenon, another strong part of our brain embraces new fast is.

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“Hedonic adaptation” is the broad name for why we survive: it’s the mind’s ability to quickly accept something in your environment that stopped you in its tracks weeks ago. Originally intended to protect humans from predators, it is harsh – so we do not constantly see all relatively new things as threats and miss new, bigger ones.

“When both good and bad things happen, first you feel intense emotions,” said Sonja Kongomirski, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. “Then you adjust and you go back to baseline. It’s a lot more powerful with positive events. People don’t fully adapt to negative changes in their lives.”

The advantage of hedonic optimization is that it works in all directions. Changes that make changes in daily life may end early after one month when they are no longer relevant. “It may be to adopt the mask as the new normal,” Maskomirski said before dropping the mask, “and then revert to the old normal.”

The behaviors that stick are inherent in our daily routines, which are “automatically triggered”, she said. “If it’s a real habit, it can actually sustain itself. Now we wash our hands more often without thinking. It’s the one thing that can live with us.”

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It is the same with the previous generation that grew up during the Depression and is still particularly clueless about not wasting food or anything else. This is a habit that stays with them.

Nonetheless, short-term changes occur easily. Kongomirski recalled an open-air meeting of academics attending Montana this past summer where Kovid tests were conducted and protocols were maintained.

Within minutes, the behavior of the attendees had returned to close proximity to each other.

“We all went right back, though the epidemic was not happening,” she said. “Everyone was just like glee. I didn’t even notice that I was doing it later.”

Life is essentially a series of changes and adaptations, she said, and the latter is something that humans do well. Kongomirski said that people put more weight on what they are feeling at the moment.

He remembered a vegetarian friend who started eating meat again when the epidemic rendered it meaningless. Another friend dyed her hair without explanation. “He’s like, ’cause f — this. I’m just going to make my hair blue.”

“We overweight it,” she said. “It’s so amazing, or it’s so terrible. But it tends to go back.”

Our circuitry overrides our doomscrolling. “We are actually more resilient than we think.”

As with everything, we will find out how resilient we are, and the future may be normal again, although it is different.

Nick Patan Walsh is an Emmy Award-winning international security editor for CNN International based in London, focusing on stories from the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan and the surrounding region, and Latin America.


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