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Adjusting to the new normal: Is COVID-19 ever going to end?

January 19, 2022 - 25 min read

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What is the new normal?

What does the new normal look like?

4 impacts of the new normal

How are different generations responding to the new normal?

5 ways to adjust to the new normal

It’s almost two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Had you told me in March 2020 that COVID-19 would still be around in 2022, I’m not sure I would’ve believed you. But as we all know, living in the age of COVID-19 has become our “new normal.”

In a recently released JAMA article, scientists say COVID-19 is here to stay. Much like the flu, it’s anticipated COVID-19 will be endemic. 

So, what is the “new normal” as we head into 2022?

While everyone is unique, we all want to live safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives. The truth is we’re remaining flexible and learning as we go. We’re defining (and redefining) what the new normal looks like for our global society, each step of the way.  

As you continue your journey to build mental fitness in the face of uncertainty, take these considerations into mind. 

What is the new normal?

We know we’re not going back to life as we know it in 2019. And that’s OK. According to Pew Research, 91% of Americans say coronavirus has changed their lives.

As a global society, we’ve suffered grief, loss, and collective trauma. We’ve experienced lockdowns with massive impacts on the economy and jobs. We’re living with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on our mental health. We’re navigating uncertainty and the unknown. But we’re resilient.

And with change comes opportunity. Together, we’re redefining what “the new normal” looks like for our world.

What does the new normal look like?

Every person is unique. There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all “new normal” for society.

But when we think about our day-to-day lives, there’s a good chance you notice these themes.

Social interactions 

If we’re being honest, social interactions could already be awkward pre-pandemic. But with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the new normal has brought on a new set of rules with social interactions.

Let’s say you run into an old friend in the grocery store. You haven’t seen this friend in a couple of years. Do you go up and give them a hug? Do you pull down your mask so you’re easily recognizable in the store? Do you keep your distance and wave from six feet?

One study looked at the impact of COVID-19 and face masks on our social interactions. Scientists found that we’re less likely to be able to read nonverbal body language, like facial expressions. This impedes our ability to evaluate emotions, which has a drastic impact on how we interact. Paired with social distancing, it impedes how we would typically communicate pre-pandemic. 

We also know that people reported an increase in symptoms of anxiety since the onset of COVID-19. Anxiety and social interaction often go hand-in-hand. But people are adjusting to social interaction (and anxiety) in the "new normal." One way is through clear communication and boundary setting

Let’s take the grocery store example. You might overthink whether or not to approach your old friend. You might approach your friend, but perhaps you feel anxious and on edge during the conversation.

But what if you simply clearly asked, “What are your COVID boundaries? I’d love to catch up but want to respect your space.”

It allows your friend to clearly communicate their boundaries. We’ll likely see an increase in clear communication and boundary setting (if you haven’t already) in our daily social interactions. 

Workplace 

Before the pandemic, only one in five workers worked remotely. Now, it’s reported that almost 71% of workers are remote. According to our data, workers want a hybrid workforce. They want a place where they have the flexibility to choose where they get their work done. 

The new normal in the workplace is ever-evolving. But one thing is for certain: workers aren’t going back to “business as usual” in the physical office space.

We see this shift from a binary remote vs. in-office to supporting a hybrid workforce. A workplace where workers are making decisions around how they’d like to spend their days, whether it’s in a home office or a corporate building. 

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This brings an onslaught of new normal additives to the future work environment. Take virtual meetings, like Zoom or Google Meet. It’s likely that most of your meetings are taking place in virtual rooms. If you’re a new employee, you might onboard to a new job — completely virtually. You might never meet a teammate face-to-face. It's possible you'll experience feelings of social isolation.

At BetterUp, we’ve built a new normal resource kit to help managers and employees transition to the new normal. In it, you’ll find ways to increase empathy and meet the needs of your employees. You’ll also learn how to lean into creativity, turn challenges into opportunities, and stay motivated. If you’re a manager, check out this custom-built new normal checklist specifically built for leaders. 

Telehealth 

Gone are the days where you had to make a doctor’s appointment in person. The coronavirus pandemic has brought on a new normal in the world of healthcare: telemedicine. 

Pre-pandemic, it’s cited that telehealth only reached about 4% of the population. But since COVID-19, it’s seen exponential growth. In the height of 2020, some months reached as high as 4000% growth in telehealth appointments. Right now, more providers are providing patient care completely virtually.

And of all types of virtual appointments, mental health telehealth visits are the highest. Virtual appointments have increased convenience, flexibility, and accessibility for patients. In the world of public health, it seems like a no-brainer to keep telemedicine visits as an available option in the new normal.

4 impacts of the new normal 

The new normal is already disrupting the way we live our lives. From always having an extra mask on hand to how we communicate with others, there’s already a lasting impact. 

But beyond individual impacts, we’re also experiencing societal and global changes to the new normal as a result of COVID-19. 

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How (and where) we work

Work — and how we do it — has fundamentally changed since COVID-19.

As mentioned, the shift to a hybrid and remote workforce has been a drastic one. We’re seeing more and more companies adjust their work environments to accommodate hybrid workers. Our research says hybrid work arrangements are increasing more rapidly than a return to a physical office

Candidates aren’t just looking for the option to be remote. It’s now become a necessity. Job searches for remote jobs were reported to be up by 460%. LinkedIn reported a more than 350% rise in remote job listings on its platform.

With nearly 10 million open jobs (yet only 6 million people in the job search), companies are battling for top talent. Employees have deeply examined their purpose in life as a result of the pandemic. 

Belonging 

Tagging along the shift to a hybrid workforce is something called the belonging tax. It’s the price workers pay for convenience, flexibility, and any semblance of gained work-life balance from remote or hybrid work. It can manifest in a decrease in that sense of innate belonging

The impact of not having a physical presence in the office could mean employees’ social connections are suffering. Our above-mentioned data says hybrid and remote workers experience increased resilience, optimism, and productivity.

But it can come at a cost. Right now, employees are experiencing their lowest levels of belonging in their organizations since the pandemic began. 

We also know social interactions in the workplace have changed since COVID-19. With more remote interactions, COVID-19 has created more isolation. We’ve found the impact on belonging is significant — especially in the workplace. 

BetterUp Labs found employees who feel excluded experience a 25% loss in performance. Employees who do not feel they belong are also at a higher risk of turnover

A renewed focus on the planet 

What does COVID-19 have to do with sustainability? In short, a lot more than you might think.

In the weeks and months of lockdowns around the globe, many examined their habits and way of life. A 2020 survey by Accenture showed this reflection on sustainability. In fact, 60% of respondents reported that they have been making more sustainable and environmentally friendly purchases since the start of the pandemic. 

But beyond consumer habits, the COVID-19 crisis heightened climate crisis concerns globally. In a Boston Consulting Group Survey, the data backs this up. In fact, 70% of respondents said they were more aware now than before COVID-19 that human activity threatens the climate.

The pandemic showed our world a sneak peek at what could come with the impacts of climate change. With climate change, we could see the same impacts of COVID-19 — but magnified. Limited resources, panic shopping, and disproportionate impacts on communities of color. Economic impacts — especially on frontline workers — will be a symptom of climate change.

We can also expect economic mobility (or lack thereof) to hinder people from under-resourced communities from re-locating to healthier areas. Because of that, we can expect health and well-being impacts, mostly on communities of color. 

It also showed our world how connected we all truly are. This interconnectedness as a global community is rare. It’s not often that crises are experienced on such a grand scale.

But as we’ve learned from COVID-19, no one is immune to global crises. And like COVID-19, climate change is one to continue to battle as a global community. 

Education and learning  

COVID-19 has changed the education system forever. Much like remote work, remote learning was a quick pivot at the beginning of the pandemic that has since stuck around in this new normal of life. 

In March 2021, as much as half of the entire world’s students were still affected by partial or full school closures. As new variants emerge, schools and children aren’t immune to the impact of COVID-19. As such, remote learning has become embedded into the new normal. 

Paralleled to the way we work, the way we learn has evolved. Some schools are offering hybrid learning environments. Other schools still consider periods of remote learning and lockdown when cases spike. 

There are certainly challenges with online learning. For example, it takes access to tools and resources — like laptops, WiFi, and physical space at home — for learning to take place.

But in the US, the “homework gap” is wide. About 35% of households with school-aged children (and an annual income below $30,000 a year) do not have a high-speed internet connection at home. This leaves a disproportionate impact on students from under-resourced communities, particularly Black and LatinX communities. 

But online learning does have its benefits for those who do have access to the right tools and technology. Some research shows that students retain 25-60% more material with online learning. Online learning also requires less time to learn. Students can go at their own pace, accelerate or skip through topics they know well, or revisit topics where they need extra help. 

Whether you prefer learning behind a screen or sitting in a physical classroom, online learning is sticking around. 

The new normal and mental health

The new normal and mental health are inextricably linked. In August 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the impact. About 40% of US adults were struggling with their mental health during the pandemic. 

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Our data also shows that US employees are sleeping less and worrying more. But if there’s a silver lining here, it’s that mental health has finally been a front-and-center conversation. And slowly, we’re chipping away at associated mental health stigma

But that doesn’t mean the lasting impacts of mental health are going away. We know that COVID-19 PTSD is real. In fact, 32% of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

In July 2021, 40% of adults still reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. Increased loneliness, physical, and financial insecurity make providing access to adequate mental health care more important than ever. 

As the impact of the pandemic on mental health continues, mental health professionals are feeling the impact. Psychologists recently reported a large increase in demand for anxiety and depression treatment.

While this demand is exposing cracks in the mental health system, it’s also showing us something else. People are speaking out and seeking help. If you or a loved one are struggling with caring for your mental health, reach out to a trained mental health care worker.

How different generations are responding to the new normal 

It’s interesting to examine each generation’s response to the new normal. Let’s break them out. 

  • Baby boomers. They’re getting comfortable with technology — despite being the generation who is least fearful of COVID-19. Baby boomers are using technology like apps to order groceries. They're Zooming into their grandkids’ birthday parties and FaceTime-ing to stay connected
  • Gen X. As we may already have seen in the lateral moves or job changes, it’s predicted Gen X-ers are coming into this new normal with a renewed look on life. With only a few chapters left in their careers, many might be yearning for that sense of purpose

5 ways to adjust to this new normal

Like any change, the new normal can take some getting used to. But it also takes intention, work, and self-awareness. Here are five ways you can adjust to the new normal.

Build mental fitness 

Strong mental fitness and resiliency go hand-in-hand. With personalized coaching support, you can strengthen your mental fitness. At BetterUp, we believe human transformation is the key to thriving. To reach self-actualization, we all need some support along the way. 

We took a look at those people who started out in a low state of well-being at the beginning of their personalized coaching journey. Our data shows 77% will significantly improve their well-being state by 3-4 months with personalized support

When you’re mentally fit, you’re more innovative, productive, and resilient. You are better equipped to handle the peaks and valleys life throws at you. 

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Practice humility

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of years, it’s that things change fast. As new data and science emerge about COVID-19 and the new normal, it may rattle what we know to be true. We learn — but it’s almost more important to unlearn

As cited in the above-mentioned JAMA journal, it’s critical to practice humility. As human beings, we’re lifelong learners. Even the best-laid plans change. It’s important to be flexible, stay humble, and continue to better ourselves as best we can. 

Invest in mental health 

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown our world how critical it is to care for your mental health. Invest in yourself. Seek support if you need it — and lean on your loved ones.

Investing in your mental health pays dividends. From dealing with stress to coping with anxiety, it’s important to know you’re not alone. 

Stay connected 

We might’ve underestimated the value of social connections pre-pandemic. We know that in this new normal, it’s crucial to stay connected with those around you.

We’re human beings. We’re hardwired to connect with others. We crave that aspect of human connection, whether it’s a Friday night Zoom call with friends or a hike with a loved one. 

If you’re a heavy social media user, it might be negatively impacting your ability to make meaningful connections. Consider ways you can swap out your time on an app and make connections in other ways. 

Do Inner Work® 

Looking inward has lasting impacts. In this new normal, it’s important to find ways to continue to do Inner Work®. It looks different for everyone — so personalize Inner Work® so it works for you. Here are some ideas to get started. 

Start adapting 

Any kind of change can be hard. When it comes to the new normal, we know it might take some getting used to. 

Take every day with small steps — and celebrate those small wins. Practice the Inner Work® to build strong mental fitness. Stay humble and flexible, two attributes critical to being a lifelong learner

We can build and shape the new normal together. It starts with intention. It starts with you.

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Published January 19, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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