Is It Healthy or Harmful to Focus on When Things Return to Normal?
Sure, at some point, this virus will be controlled, but it is hard to imagine than anyone is coming out of this experience unscathed or unchanged. Hopefully, many of us will discover over time that we are living life on a deeper level. Hopefully, we will experience a greater capacity empathy and a fuller appreciation for the freedom and joy associated with attending live events, gathering in groups, working, socializing and traveling without fear of lethal infection.
The best advice I received about psychologically navigating this pandemic came in late March from one of my therapy clients. She referenced the Stockdale Paradox referencing Naval Vice Admiral James Stockdale’s takeaways from his almost eight years as the highest ranking Naval officer POW in Vietnam. Stockdale observed that his fellow POWs who fared well emotionally were the ones who realized that they could be living in captivity for an extremely long time. The “optimistic” prisoners who pinned their hopes on being released fell apart. This pandemic and its restrictions are obviously nothing like being held captive as a war prisoner. But it is optimal to prepare for the long haul: discover a productive routine, nurture relationships, exercise regularly and take good care of yourself. No one wants to live like this forever, and it is adaptive to remain hopeful. But it is also emotionally prudent to assume that this is our enduring new normal, at least for the foreseeable future.
The pandemic and subsequent restrictions involve multiple layers of loss. The collateral damage is especially great for those who have lost a loved one. And for those who lost a job or a career. The collective grief is painful and palpable. For those of us who are fortunate enough to survive with our health (and finances) intact, there is a lot to be grateful for and it can be useful to consider that certain long-term societal and policy shifts will have lasting benefits that ultimately honor the memory of those we have lost.