Looking to 2022 and Adapting to a New Normal: What To Do if COVID Has Changed Your Future

George J. Ziogas

Adapting to the new normal

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It doesn't matter who you are, COVID has changed your world. Whether you lost someone close to you, lost your job, or just made it through by the skin of your teeth. COVID has changed the world forever, but you have control over your future. It's up to you to find a way to adapt to the new normal and to build a future you look forward to.

One thing is certain now and it's that adjusting to change and being flexible is a challenge. The same goes whether it's a sudden or gradual change, a planned or unplanned change. It's inevitable, though, change is a natural part of the human experience. Of course, we are all in the same boat now.

While COVID has touched people differently and changed things radically for some and only slightly for others, it has touched us all. No one has been left untouched by the pandemic. Whether you're a high-risk immunocompromised person who has been locked down since March 2020 or you're an essential worker who has continued to put yourself in danger to help meet the needs of others, your life will never be the same.

For many people, everything has changed. While many people have faced separation while living under the same roof and getting to grips with co-parenting, others have lost their job and realized that a new job won't cut it, it's time to rethink the whole career. You may have lost your spouse, you may have lost a child, a friend, a parent.

We were ready to write 2020 off since the opening months with the Indonesian floods, the wildfires of Australia raging, and the swarm of locusts that was quickly followed by murder hornets. If 2020 was a television show, the writers would be skewered in reviews for being heavy-handed. Unfortunately, it's all real and it's easy to see why so many people feel as though they're drowning under the weight of everything that's going on.

Even when things get back to normal, they aren't going to be the normal we knew before. Things have changed forever, but what does that mean for you?

As a human, you're going to experience challenges of all sizes and while the emotions that come with it are real the experience itself is temporary. We're approaching the tail end of 2021 now and while COVID-19 may linger, your frame of mind can change when the sun sets on the 31st of December and before it rises again on a new year come the 1st of January. Just as the seasons change, so does life.

If someone had arrived at your home on New Year's Eve 2019 and told you that a global pandemic would shut the world down you would have laughed. It was unthinkable. The idea that workplaces were ground to a halt.

The idea that everyone would work from home or not work at all while wearing masks to pick up groceries. It was unthinkable to consider that air travel would all but stop and that millions of people all over the world would die after contracting a highly contagious virus. It seemed unthinkable until it happened.

While epidemiologists had warned us that a pandemic was inevitable, the rest of us carried on regardless. As far as its impact, well, we don't really know yet because we're still in a pandemic. However, you personally can make changes now to prepare yourself for a brand new you in 2022.

The New Normal

Before we address you, let's look at what's likely to stick around for some time.

Whether there's a mask mandate or not, mask-wearing is going nowhere. After SARS, it became commonplace in Asian countries to wear a mask when unwell. You can expect to see the same behavior repeated in the western world now that people understand how useful they are in protecting others from illness. You have to prepare yourself for this sight for many years to come.

You might flinch when you hear someone sniffle, sneeze, or cough in public. This is something immunocompromised people already deal with, but now it's part of the new normal. It's likely you'll continue with a high standard of personal hygiene long after COVID disappears. You have to prepare yourself for the anxiety that this may bring.

Even once restaurants and bars reopen, a lot of people will be slow to return. And it's likely that when people do return, they will do so in smaller groups. Your friends (and you) may be hesitant to socialize for some time. You have to prepare yourself for creative socializing in the meantime.

Some jobs are gone forever. Businesses have closed permanently and took their jobs with them.

Addressing The Changes In Our Lives

Job Loss

If you lost your job due to COVID, then you're not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people have been made redundant all over the world. We're now in a job market that's more competitive than ever and it was already extremely competitive.

Here's the thing about your situation. You may be in an industry where you know you'll land on your feet, whether it's quickly or eventually. But you may face a reckoning with an industry that has grown so competitive you have to change lanes to stand a chance. This is your opportunity!

Keep an open mind and start your search off right by making a list of your key skills and strengths and explore other industries to find a potential match. Remember, soft skills are transferable and hard skills are learnable. With training, practice, or learning you can add just about any hard skill to your arsenal.

It's worth doing a bit of research to tailor your resume and applications accordingly. Remember, you aren't the only one who has undergone a radical transformation in the last year and a half, so have organizations and industries.

So, read about the COVID impact of the company you're applying for if possible. That type of insight will help guide your application which will show and it also provides you with a healthy context for any discussions that may occur during the interview process.

Always tailor your resume to the specific position you're applying for. If you don't take time to personalize your resume, the recruiter may feel you're not enthused about the company or position. Let your research show.

If you can't wait and you need income immediately, then don't be too picky about the next job you take. You can accept a position that will pay the bills, as long as you maintain the motivation necessary to continue chasing your new dream. We're in challenging times and it's okay to do what you have to do to get by.

Friendships & Socializing

The way you've socialized and connected over the last year and a half has likely looked radically different to life pre-COVID. Social distancing is the new normal and for now, we've said goodbye to concerts, festivals, and large groups.

That might return soon, but in all likelihood, many people will be hesitant to join large groups because of the threat of spread. So, you probably miss seeing your friends. You probably miss hugging them and laughing with them. That's natural. Likewise, there's a good chance you have stayed well away from certain loved ones to protect them from the virus. You probably wave at your parents or grandparents at a distance when you drop off supplies and keep your interactions to the phone.

You may live far away from your family and with travel restrictions making life more complicated, there's a good chance you've missed out on many visits. Even when you can see your friends, you may have immediately hugged and kissed each other's cheeks and now that's gone.

The way we eat out has changed as well. With many city restaurants introducing bubbles for diners to separate themselves from the diners in the bubble next door. Everything has changed.

Sadly, you may have experienced breakdowns in some of your friendships as many people have. It could be because they didn't take things seriously enough, it could be because they think you took it too seriously.

Regardless, COVID has changed the future of friendships and socializing, but you need only adapt to those changes to maintain your friendships. It's okay if you've shed friends who were toxic. Focus on the friendships you value when 2022 arrives. Just because it's changed the future doesn't mean it has to change your friendships.

Relationships

This pandemic has been difficult for everyone and it's been extremely difficult for romance. From the couples who have split and unable to move away from each other to the couples who were unable to see each other and split due to the distance.

It's been a difficult time for love. Perhaps your relationship was on the rocks already and the pandemic simply brought it to a head because you were forced to lockdown and reckon with the difficulties you've been dealing with.

If you are one of those people whose relationship has ended, but you still live together, then you'll know just how challenging this pandemic has been. It's difficult to heal when you're faced with that person daily.

It's hard to get over it when you can't get space to breathe. Especially if there are children involved. You have to be careful about where you have those conversations and how you have those arguments and you have to be functional parents together for the good of your children. That's a challenging prospect to undertake when you're nursing a broken heart, whether you know it's the right decision or not.

Of course, you may be ready to move on but dating during a pandemic is challenging. Your future has been altered and as much as you'd like to control how it unfolds, right now it doesn't feel like you have that control. That's okay. You can get the control back.

In 2022, your relationships are in your hands and you decide how things progress. It might not seem like it right now, but the pandemic may actually help you settle in the right relationship.

Since it isn't as easy to meet up now, you have a real opportunity to get to the heart of someone. Think of it as a pen pal you're getting to know by writing back and forth. It's your chance to build a strong foundation before your eyes meet across a crowded room.

Grief

Grief can be paralyzing whenever it comes, but if you've lost someone due to COVID that grief may hit differently. We've all sat in our homes and watched this pandemic unfold and we all have our own opinions on how it's been handled.

We sat back and watched in sheer horror at the numbers of cases and deaths that the likes of Italy, Spain and India were experiencing and yet when we exceeded those numbers, we were numb to it. Unless, of course, you personally lost someone. If you did, then you have a lot of emotions swirling in respect to how others have responded to the pandemic and how you personally protect yourself going forward.

It's difficult to grieve and heal from loss when you hold onto anger about the way in which you lost someone. It all feels so pointless. There's a good chance you didn't get to say goodbye, there's a good chance you didn't get to see them for quite some time before their death, and that makes it so much more difficult to accept. What you're going through is different from other grief because there are a lot of complicated feelings at play.

You deserve to take the time you need to heal, but you can't go into 2022 with your anger intact. You have to release that anger before you enter a new year, lest it taints another year for you.

Adapting To The New Normal With Plan B

An Airing of Grief

While it's out with the old and in with the new, it's important that you allow yourself time to grieve the loss of your old normal. Change is hard and it's a normal human response to miss the old order.

Often, people experience a feeling of loss, much like they would after a death. In a pandemic, your routine is gone, your plans are a memory, and it's important that you acknowledge that. You'll experience denial, you'll deal with anger, and you may experience a touch of depression before you reach a place of acceptance. As you pivot to adjust to a new normal, whatever form it takes, it's important that you take the opportunity to grieve.

Once you've taken time to grieve you can begin the process of embracing the new normal.

Your New Routine

A routine helps create normalcy and since a pandemic threw everyone's routine out of whack, it's important that you set about creating a new routine. A new normal deserves a new routine.

What do you expect 2022 to look like? If you don't expect to return to a gym, then create a home workout you can build into your schedule. There are plenty of online resources that can help you.

If you expect to be working from home for the foreseeable future and you miss your morning ritual, create a new ritual. Why not invest in a coffee machine that lets you practice latte art to bring that barista feel back to your day? If you miss your work friends, set up a regular video meeting that lets you catch up over coffee.

What's key is flexibility. As you set about creating your new normal, remember that a challenge can arrive at any time to throw your routine out of whack. We might not have been prepared for that when the pandemic arrived, but we can be prepared for it moving forward.

Keep A Journal

The pandemic has likely brought up a wave of feelings and thoughts. You may be questioning everything about your life, you may have realized how lucky you are. Either way, a journal is a great way to work through your feelings and process your emotions.

It's a therapeutic experience and it's something you can look back on if necessary. The default right now is probably chaos because it's really easy to focus on the negativity. Journaling is a proactive opportunity to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. You can use this information to improve your life and to learn to be more grateful.

The Space Between

A lot of life now and going forward will be contained within the four walls of your home. So, it's important for you to make space in those four walls for the different jobs and tasks you have to complete.

So, if you're going to be working from home moving forward you should create a separate workspace to do that in. It isn't just for focus, it's important that when you finish work you can walk away from it and be in your home and feel like it. It's all about drawing boundaries between play and work.

What I say next may upset you, but I want you to at least consider it. You can increase your motivation and get your mindset right by dressing properly for your workday. I know it's wonderful to wear sweatpants and toss on an old sweatshirt when you get chilly, but you'll feel more motivated to tackle your workday if you get dressed. No one is suggesting you wear a suit, though. You can still dress casually.

New Connections

Just because social distancing has become the norm doesn't mean you have to disconnect socially. The pandemic has taught us there are plenty of novel ways to socialize with friends and family. This is a lesson you should take with you into 2022.

While we will reach a point where social distancing is no longer necessary, the reality of life is that we often grow too busy to meet up with our friends and family. So, use technology to stay connected and if you can't manage to meet your friend for coffee, share coffee over video chat. If you made plans with friends and someone's kid is sick, then use a video conference to carry out your plans with a twist. If the pandemic has done anything positive for us, it's highlighting the importance of friends, family, and socializing with them.

Create Pockets of Joy

Adapting to a new normal is challenging at the best of times, so it's going to be an even bigger challenge as you cope with the changes the pandemic wrought. So, one thing that will be incredibly important to your progress is finding joy and celebrating it.

It doesn't matter if it puts the tiniest smile on your face or gives you a belly laugh, take a moment to appreciate the joy something brings you. Whether it's a delicious cup of coffee, the love your dog lavishes on you, the cat you met in the street, or the meme a friend sent you. Just embrace the joy.

For some reason, we've fallen into a trap about what we can or should appreciate. A bit like a lot of people like to rip into sitcoms as being unfunny when millions of people love them. You like what you like and there's nothing wrong with that! You don't need something major to happen to find joy. You just have to start focusing on all of the positives.

Take a Break

Moving forward, I encourage you to take things one step at a time. It's easy to worry about tomorrow, it's easy to panic about the day after, but your focus should be on putting one foot in front of the other and what's going on right now. If you learn anything from this pandemic, it should be to enjoy the moment because you only get to experience it once.

More importantly, go easy on yourself. When you set goals, be realistic and give yourself the space to adjust them if necessary. We're living in extraordinary times so you deserve the same level of grace you extend to others. Don't sweat the small stuff.

Remain Informed

After a pandemic, a new normal begins and as you adjust to yours it's important to stay informed about what's going on. However, it's just as important that you're not alarmed. You can only control your actions so focus on that. It won't do you any good to stay hyper-connected to every single piece of news that comes out. If you spend a lot of time on social media then you'll know how often unreliable information floats around before the full story comes to the fore. Wait for the sourced information and let go of some of the worries you feel about the unknown. For the good of your mental health, focus on what's going on in your local area as opposed to nationally or internationally.

Change Your Mindset

One of the biggest struggles you'll face when dealing with the despair that 2021 and the pandemic have wrought is your mindset. Whether it's the harsh voice of your inner critic or the anxiety and worry you've long struggled with due to self-esteem issues or a perfectionist streak.

An unhealthy and unhelpful thinking pattern can have devastating consequences on your health, relationships, work, and overall life. So, I'd like to address how you can change your mindset to set yourself up for a successful 2022, no matter what happens.

First, I'd like to address the ineffective ways people often try to fight negative thinking to change their mindset. Approaches such as diversions, distractions, or even drowning their sorrows.

They often provide temporary respite only to come back to bite you later, whether it's because you beat yourself up over it when it doesn't work or because the feelings spiral. Changing your mindset is an internal battle and I want you to build helpful strategies rather than a temporary respite. I want you to address the problem at its very core.

Recognizing Negative Thought Patterns

A thought pattern is simply a repetitive thought process and if those thoughts are unhelpful then they are, by their very nature, negative. The unwanted, unpleasant, negative emotions such as shame, guilt, anxiety, fear, depression, and stress. Once you learn how to identify those thoughts as they occur, you can take a step backward from them.

The process of stepping away from negative thoughts is known as cognitive diffusion or deliteralization. This technique features in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The purpose of it is to see thoughts for what they are (just thoughts) versus seeing them for what they claim to be (factual). It's easy to take your thoughts seriously, it's easy to believe those thoughts, but when you do that you buy into the message they send and it creates a negative spiral as they play out.

It might not feel like it, but you choose how you respond to your thoughts and you don't have to believe them or allow them to play out. As an example, imagine that when you woke up this morning and looked out the window the rain was torrential, there was thunder clapping in the distance, and heavy winds picking up.

It's easy to look at that and think this is a terrible day. That's the thought that popped into your mind, but does that mean this is truly a terrible day? No. The weather might be a bit drab, but the day itself isn't terrible because of that.

However, if you buy into the idea that it's a terrible day there's a good chance that will set your mindset on terrible for the day. You've effectively accepted it and decided to make it so. Make a decision in the opposite direction!

Awaken Your Senses

Many of your negative thoughts flow from either your need to dwell on the past or from worrying about the future. On the one hand, you might ruminate on problems, mistakes, and guilt or you may have fears about what will or could happen to you, your loved ones, or even the world at large. That can be stressful!

When you get lost in negative thinking patterns it's easy to become so engrossed in those negative thoughts that you're missing out on the here and now.

To be a more present person, you can start by awakening your senses and using each of them to root yourself in the here and now. It's the quickest and easiest way to get control of your mindset and start taking back control from the negative thoughts that have been dictating your life thus far.

Mindfulness

You might think of mindfulness as a simple meditation or even a form of awakening your senses. While both things are true, there's a bit more to it than that. Ultimately, mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and everywhere and at any time. When you lose touch with yourself it's much easier for negative thoughts to take hold. With mindfulness, you find the stillness within you and wake yourself up to the peace you possess. How you practice mindfulness is up to you, but meditation is indeed a great place to start.

Question Your Thoughts

If you want to change your mindset and embrace success and happiness in 2022, then you have to start questioning those negative thoughts as they arise. If you don't address them, they'll retain their grip on you and the longer you allow them to foment, the more insidious they will become.

When you're faced with negative thoughts, ask yourself the following questions to challenge those thoughts:

• Is this a useful or helpful thought in any way?

• Is this thought in any way true? Can I be sure it's true?

• Is this negative thought simply a habit of playing an old story?

• Will this thought help me take action?

• Is this my mind babbling or is this a helpful thought?

When you challenge your thoughts, you have the opportunity to replace those thoughts with helpful, constructive thoughts.

So, once you've challenged negative thoughts, question yourself further to build a better mindset.

• What do I need or want to create positive situations?

• How do I move towards that?

• How do I make the most of this situation?

• If I could squelch those negative thoughts, who would I be?

• What new thought can I focus on instead?

• How can I see this situation differently?

• What can I be thankful for right now?

These questions will help you take positive actions in your life, which is exactly what you need to adapt to the new normal and take 2022 by storm. There's no quick fix when it comes to changing your mindset and adapting to a new normal.

However, practice always makes just about perfect and this is your starting point. The more you practice the easier it will grow and eventually, it will be second nature. You're capable of rolling with any punch life throws your way, even if it's a pandemic.

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