Returning to the world – Post COVID-19

several people at a party

Photo by Wendy Wei on

I have been doing a lot of media about how we are going to adjust to the world, Post-COVID-19. Here is a summary of the questions that I responded to.

Last week saw the release of a study by Vox Pops Labs and the ABC that suggested that as coronavirus restrictions are eased or lifted, only about one in eight Australians would attend a large event even if they could, fewer than one in five would get on a plane, and only 40 per cent would go to a bar or restaurant.

Is this the response you’d expect from Australians?

Very much so. In a period of six months, Australians have been overwhelmed with crises; we had an unprecedented bushfire season over summer, our cities were enveloped in smoke for weeks, and we’re now experiencing an illness that for most of us is a mystery; even the World Health Organisation referred to it as “uncharted territory”. We are grappling with so many unknowns, our natural reaction is to be cautious.

There is no doubt that we are all desperate for life to get back to something resembling normal, but people will be tentative, they will be wondering what they can do and when they can do it.

We also have to recognise that things won’t go back to the way they were before Coronavirus. Who knows, we may end up thinking about life pre and post-Covid. So, our new “normal” will evolve, as we adapt to life in the post-Covid era.

And it isn’t enough for our leaders, the premiers and the Prime Minister to ask people to be sensible and use commonsense. These are meaningless terms and can be interpreted by people any way they like.

When people are uncertain, they want definitive, specific information about what they can and can’t do. We responded best when we were told what the rules were.

Of course, there are people who complain, and others who try to find loopholes. So, in general, Australians could be described as compliant complainers, and tend to be more community minded that other individualist countries such as the US.

If the politicians tell us what we can and should do, then most of us will do the right thing, as long as those instructions seem reasonable, and are supported by evidence.

Why do many of us feel uneasy about a life post restrictions?

It’s mostly because we’ve made such dramatic adjustments to our lives in really short period of time. And because those changes have come thick and fast, we’re going to take some time to adjust again.

We’re scared. There are so many unknowns and so many unanswered questions that, for most of us, our first response is going to be focused on protecting ourselves and our loved ones.

There are so many adjustments that we have had to make as we adjusted to life over the past few months. Sometimes within a day or even a couple of hours, many of the things we took for granted, like being able to visit our parents, go out for a coffee, or go to work, were taken away from us.

But most of us have been able to adapt.

This isn’t to diminish the fact that it has been stressful and mentally debilitating for everyone, but humans are incredibly adaptable. Just look at how we have come up with ways to connect to one another – Zoom parties, outdoor dancing, cooking bread.

How long will it take for people to feel comfortable again?

For some people, they will be desperate to go back to normal life and back to cafes and pubs and their usual activities. But for others, particularly those with medical conditions and those more risk averse, they will be more careful.

People look to others to help them to work out what to do, so as more people return to their usual activities, and as long as virus numbers stay low, we will eventually feel comfortable again.

But that could take months or even a year.

And we will continue to have to work out how to cope. I think the emergence of a vaccination was presented as the solution, but who knows when (and even if) it will appear.

We (you, me, politicians, even the medical experts) are making decisions with imperfect information. This is unknown territory. And what this means is that we will fluctuate between feeling okay and feeling despondent.

So one way to think about this is that most of our life lies somewhere between what might be considered near enoughness, good enoughness, randomness and responding to shifts and shocks. Try to embrace doubt and control the things that you can.

What’s your advice for people trying to adjust to this new normal?

I think the first thing to recognise is that the new normal won’t be like the old normal… whatever that was. We will make adjustments.

But we have choices. We can choose to be patient with ourselves, with others, with the health authorities and with the politicians. We can choose to go out if we want to, and we can choose to stay home if we want to. Or a bit of both.

Take your time and be ready to change your mind if you are worried. Take things easy.

Right now, we are dealing with a mystery. All we can do now is cope, rather than try to think that decisions that we make will have the desired outcomes.

In life we don’t have a huge amount of control; we cope. We make decisions incrementally.

We don’t necessarily attain the highest point on our goals, we seek a higher point than the one that we currently occupy. We try to achieve outcomes that are subjectively better right now and avoid outcomes that are subjectively worse.

So, stay connected and see yourself as a member of a community rather than just responding to your own needs. Research tells us that we cope better with stress and uncertaintly when we feel that we are doing things for others. Try to find a way to help others, and to stay connected to your community.

And, from time to time, treat yourself if you are able to; it doesn’t have to be extravagant, but finding time to do something that gives you joy, can sometimes help you to reset and find a way to cope with the world again.

If you want to listen to an interview with me from the MammaMia Podcast, The Quicky, you can listen to it here.

This entry was posted in Consumer Behavior, Human Behavior, Research, Social Psychology, Tribal. Bookmark the permalink.

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