Will there even be an "after the pandemic"? Or will life in NYC as we knew it be permanently colored by this health crisis?
You've heard the words "new normal". Nearly a year into the pandemic, we've grown used to the wearing of masks, keeping a distance of six feet to anyone and everyone outside of our household or safety bubble, and dousing our hands in sanatizer multiple times whenever we leave the house.
While some of those things are easier to get accustomed to, many aspects of the pandemic have been life-altering in ways we could not have previously imagined. None of us expected the sudden change of plans and daily routines. We didn't expect the fear, the grief, the worry, the social isolation. We didn't expect life to be turned upside down completely, in a matter of weeks and months.
Uncertainty is humankind's ultimate enemy
Humans fear uncertainty, and a sudden pandemic is a (usually) once-in-a-lifetime event with the power to throw people worldwide off the track. Many went from initially underestimating the situation to the stages of denial, frustration, impatience, and finally unwilling acceptance.
But even in the early weeks and months of the crisis, people started dreaming of better times and making plans for "when the pandemic is finally over".
With vaccinations underway in many countries, there's a small glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel of a long, dark road. But the tunnel might be even longer than some want to believe. With new mutations and variants complicating matters, we can only hope that from here on out, it's a straight and even road back to normalcy.
"Normal life" might be a mere fantasy to cling to
But will there even be such a thing as "normal life" when all of this is over? Will life magically go back to the way we once knew it when the novel coronavirus is finally no longer an imminent threat for the majority of humanity? Can life ever really go back to normal?
The pandemic will cause lasting changes
There will certainly be lasting changes when it comes to normalizing remote work, practicing more caution in all things hygiene (hand sanitizer and masks during flu season are here to stay), and the knowledge that life as we plan it may change in the blink of an eye. Many of us will subconsciously be left with a suppressed fear of a new, maybe even worse, pandemic on the horizon.
Changing the way humans think and act
The biggest long-term change, perhaps, aside from worldwide effects on the economy and healthcare systems, will be the way we think and act. The pandemic already has, and will continue to change us as humans for a long time to come. Maybe we will bounce back sooner than we think, immersing ourselves into crowds, traveling the world, acting as if nothing had ever happened. But at least for those of us who were old enough to directly experience and be aware of the impacts of the pandemic, it will forever be a life-changing event to look back at (providing we won't experience worse events in the future).
The pandemic will have lasting effects on our mental health, whether we notice it directly or not. It will have long-term effects on the minds, behaviors and habits of children and adults alike. In fact, it has already changed some major habits of people within the first year.
Reevaluating our habits and priorities
The situation has forced us to reevaluate our lives, decisions, priorities and desires. Aside from the forced-upon isolation and hygiene measures, people have been confronted with a closer examination of their lifestyles. Some have been forced to pay attention to their money-spending habits, with work and paychecks cut down to a minimum or even entirely. Others have vowed, and successfully begun, to lose weight after it became clear that obesity may lead to severe cases of COVID-19. Many have finally found the strength and motivation to quit smoking as a way to avoid further respiratory damage. People have started eating healthier, exchanging take-out lunch at work for healthier, home-cooked meals, while seeking physical activity to counteract their new sedentary daily routines. Especially in a city like NYC, the normally fast pace of life saw a drastic change.
An astonishing number of people have made life-altering decisions sparked by the pandemic. Those include moving away from cities to the suburbs, or perhaps even returning to their home countries, changing their previously set paths in terms of life, family and careers.
Struggling with sudden mental health disorders
But even after the pandemic, whenever that may be, certain habits will remain—and not only good ones. The immediate feeling of threat and discomfort when coming too close to a stranger in the supermarket isle might not last long, but it will subconsciously stay with us for a while. Being isolated for such a long time has led new cases of depression and anxiety to emerge in previously healthy people. Many will involuntarily be left with crippling social anxiety, feeling so comfortable with their isolated lifestyles that it will be a challenge to interact with others in a normal way again.
On the note of mental disorders, health anxiety is at an all-time high. We are suddenly much more aware of bodily symptoms after constantly questioning mild coughs and low-grade fevers. We've been confronted with our own mortality and that of our loved ones, realizing how precious our health really is. We've learned to appreciate family time, stable work and income, and life when all seemed well and good. Hopefully, the positive changes stay with us long after this pandemic is over, and our "new normal" will bring some good aspects, too.