The phrase “a new normal” is used in the oncology setting to describe the changes a person faces as a result of cancer and its treatments. Physical and emotional scars plus activity limitations are examples of adjustments cancer survivors make as they define what will be their new normal. But in today’s media, the new normal is being used to label the changes the world’s population is facing as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Normal refers to a standard or expected state of being—something that’s anything but right now. Standards of social interaction and economics have drastically changed since March 2020, resulting in social isolation, loneliness, and an increase in stress about the future.

What the Research Tells Us

Research findings from past crises can help people deal with the current pandemic. Investigators looking at risk perception during the Zika virus in 2016 noted that people with increased media exposure to the event rated their risk greater than people who had limited media exposure. Fischoff et al. found that sticking with trustworthy media sites can help people develop more accurate risk perceptions.

Bottom line: Limiting your amount of exposure and getting your information from reliable sources can help you understand your risk and take the recommended precautions. 

Stress levels rise when a threat is new and unfamiliar. For the majority of the American population, a pandemic is not something they imagined they would experience firsthand. Garfin et al. found that the long-term effects of unmanaged stress included increased pain, depression, anxiety, family conflict, and poor general health.

Bottom line: Take advantage of mental health options offered by your employer or national organizations. Such action may sustain you through the coming months and reduce the risk of having unwanted, stress-related physical and emotional effects. 

How to Practice

In a time of great change and uncertainty about the future, think about how you will define your new normal. Perhaps you have a new appreciation for your role as a nurse. Maybe you are discouraged about the limits on large group events. Whatever the case may be, taking time to be aware of how the pandemic has changed the way you work and socialize can help you minimize the increased stress and unease that we’re all facing. What have you learned, and how might you apply that to foster resilience in yourself and the people you care for?