The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world and left countless people longing for a pre-pandemic way of life.
That desire is likely only further straining our mental health.
“Our brains really are very eager to get back to normal, to get back to January 2020,” Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts and author of a book about adapting to “the new abnormal” of COVID-19, told USA TODAY.
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But that’s simply not possible, Tsipursky said. Some losses in recent months are permanent. The dark cloud of coronavirus risk, meanwhile, will continue to linger – possibly for years.
“Normality” means different things for different people. Tragically, for hundreds of thousands of Americans, a pre-pandemic life would include a loved one who has died of COVID-19 this year.
For some Americans, a return to normal would mean restored health and financial stability. To others, it’s a world with concerts and gatherings, hugs and handshakes.
There’s nothing wrong with hoping for a better, more stable future, New York University psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen told USA TODAY. But it’s important to realize that is likely a long-term fantasy, she said.
Hope isn’t a luxury: It’s essential for mental health.
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A lingering threat
The fight against this highly contagious virus continues to define daily life: Cases are rising; the president was diagnosed with COVID-19; Disneyland is still closed and the death toll is comparable to some of our most tragic wars.
That won’t always be the case. Tsipursky described a scenario in which increasingly effective vaccines and treatments will slowly reduce the spread of the virus over the course of years – a gradual process, rather than a quick return to what life was like in January 2020.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has hinted at a similar future, warning that approval of a vaccine would not be an “overnight event” that quickly returns the nation to a normal way of life. Even “getting back to a degree of normality which resembles where we were prior to COVID” might not arrive until late 2021, he said in early September.
As long as the virus continues to spread, previously normal activities such as going to a bar, attending a crowded concert, or even hosting a family gathering over the holidays will continue to come with significant risks. And those risks aren’t only