- Many Americans feel society will never return to the way things were before COVID-19.
- However, health experts say they have a brighter take on returning to “normal.”
- There are ways to cope as you wait for the return of life as we know it.
As Omicron continues to sweep across the United States, and the pandemic feels more like a permanent challenge, many people wonder if society will ever return to the way it was before COVID-19.
Many Americans have lost hope for a return to “normalcy,” according to a 2022 survey by HealthCareInsider.
Of the more than 1,180 U.S. adults polled, 39 percent think regular life will return in the coming year, down from 61 percent in 2021.
“Many people have what’s called caution fatigue, where they’re tired of hearing about imminent threats. They become dulled by the inconsistent news stories and contradictory health recommendations. This is a form of desensitization, which can flatten a person’s ability to feel hopeful for the future,” Deborah Serani, PsyD, psychologist and professor at Adelphi University, told Healthline.
Lack of control over COVID-19 may also contribute to these feelings, Serani added, as the pandemic is a traumatic event that pushes adults and children into a stressed state of hopelessness, helplessness, and anxiety.
“Helplessness is a reaction many of us experience in the face of traumatic stress… feeling like you can’t keep yourself or loved ones safe can elevate anxiety about finding safety in the future,” she said.
Many important events in American culture have been interrupted by the pandemic. For instance, the HealthCareInsider survey found:
- People ages 18 to 29 are especially likely to report delaying plans to attend college (20 percent) or get married (19 percent).
- 37 percent say they limit travel when a new variant like Omicron is present.
- 34 percent limit live entertainment like concerts or sporting events.
- 64 percent report increasing their health precautions because of the Omicron variant.
Christine Haines, an emergency room doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said that while many people are experiencing pandemic burnout, society will eventually return to “normal.”
“Being in healthcare, I am the first to understand what this means. We need to hang in there a little longer. I feel like we are at the beginning of the end,” Haines told Healthline.
She points to vaccines, which decrease hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, and believes higher vaccination rates and more mask-wearing will decrease future mutations and reduce spread.
Most share her optimism about vaccines. According to the HealthCareInsider poll, 61 percent believe the vaccine will help end the pandemic, up from 51 percent in 2021.
“In addition, the newest Omicron variant has mutated to now cause much milder symptoms, especially amongst the vaccinated. This is exactly what we have been waiting for. Having most people become positive with this variant but not get sick gives us the opportunity to establish a higher percentage of people with natural immunity,” Haines said.
“This brings us closer to returning to normal as this becomes more likely to be a virus causing a common cold or flu,” she added.
Thinking collectively is the way to getting back to traditional life, said Haines.
“I understand Americans might be frustrated and disheartened because they are vaccinated and still getting infected, but it is necessary to keep the more important point in mind: We are not dying nearly at a rate we would be if we didn’t have a vaccine,” she said.
The vaccine is the way out of the pandemic, or at least for it to become endemic, she added.
“The data does not lie. There is a huge gap between what happens to people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated. The Omicron variant has caused more infections, even amongst the vaccinated, but the hospitalizations and deaths are still significantly higher amongst the unvaccinated,” Haines said.
She stressed the need to increase the percentage of vaccinations globally.
“This is the quickest way to get back to normal,” Haines said.
While there are hopes that vaccines, preventive safety measures, and further science can stop COVID-19, Serani noted real concerns if the virus moves into an endemic stage.
“This would clinically mean that COVID-19 is here to stay. If so, we will definitely have a new normal, with much for us to cope with,” she said.
To help cope with the traumatic stress of the pandemic or endemic, should that occur, Serani suggested the following tips:
Take time to look at things you can control to offset the helplessness that can accompany COVID-19 concerns. This may include your work, safely engaging in activities you enjoy, keeping your home in order, and more.
Keep a routine
Sticking to a routine for eating, sleeping, working, cleaning, and exercising can help make the pandemic feel a little more typical.
“The schedule of a routine helps keep children and adults in a structure that feels safe, predictable, and comforting,” said Serani.
Serani suggested finding soothing ways to ease the physical and emotional uncertainty of living during the pandemic.
This may include self-care measures such as exercising, cooking, meditating, listening to podcasts, or whatever makes you feel well.
Looking at the positive can help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase feelings of positivity, said Serani. “It helps to count your blessings and good fortune when trauma and uncertainty float in and out of your life.”
Though it’s easy to feel disconnected from loved ones and friends right now, finding ways to stay connected to them can keep you feeling less lonely.
Virtual talks, walks, or meals together outside are good ways to get quality time together.