Ask Dr. Paul: Adjusting to the new normal with COVID-19

Here are some tips to help you embrace and cope with our new way of living in a pandemic world.

The coronavirus shows no signs of an early demise. Yes, the rate of infection in Washington has, thankfully, slowed. But every day, throughout the world, thousands test positive for the virus, despite all our safeguards. To maintain our health and well-being, we must embrace a new way of living.

Q: I knew that the COVID pandemic, social distancing and the closing of non-essential businesses would be painful — but I thought it would be short. Now, I realize that the viral threat will linger for many months, maybe longer. How do I get my life back?

A: It feels like so long ago, but it was only March 23 when Gov. Jay Inslee issued the stay-home order in Washington. It seems like our pre-COVID world was a lifetime ago. Yet here we are, in June, wondering what life will look like in the months ahead.

I take comfort in knowing the smartest scientists in the world are racing to find a vaccine and effective treatments. In time, I’m sure they’ll succeed. In the meanwhile, we’re living in a new normal, which will likely change weekly in the months ahead.

It’s a strange, new world — working from home, standing in line, wearing face masks, picking up dinner placed outside of the restaurant door, sidestepping our neighbors when we take an evening walk. The streets can be eerily quiet.

There is stress, worry and fear, too. Many of our friends and neighbors are furloughed, wondering if and when they will return to work. Many are worried that they will lose their jobs.

Yet, here we are, worldwide, using our creativity, our adaptability and our intelligence, to create a safer way to live, work, eat, play and connect. It’s inspiring.

There is also a new normal for seeing your doctor — logging on to your computer or phone and meeting your health-care provider in a virtual waiting room for your visit. Having your blood drawn by appointment, with you and your phlebotomist masked and screened for infection. Exam rooms are disinfected after every visit.

It’s a new but safe world of health care. It’s important we still prioritize our health needs and know it’s safe to seek care. The Everett Clinic, part of Optum, and other health-care organizations around the country are taking precautions to ensure we’re safe at the doctor’s office.

I spend the day working with my patients, talking with kids and adults through my computer screen. It’s different, but we’re all getting used to it — making the best of our new normal. It’s a lot better than I imagined. And we save commuting time, money for gasoline and reduce pollution. I think we will continue to use video visits in the future, when we’re no longer threatened by COVID.

Online learning has replaced live classrooms. My wife takes ballet classes in our dining room. Restaurants deliver meals to your doorstep. Stores send their products to customers through UPS, USPS or FedEx. Friends and family sit 6 feet apart, masked, in back yards. Human beings are masters at finding a way to socialize, despite the threat of infection.

So, what are some tips to help us embrace and cope with this new way of living?

Don’t look back. Comparing today with pre-COVID life only brings suffering. Live each day as fully as you can, without comparing and contrasting this new world with the old.

Don’t stress over uncertainty. Don’t spend time ruminating on things that are out of your control. Focus on being present. Develop healthy daily habits to help you prepare for the future.

Stay strong in the storm. Don’t lose your calm when you’re navigating through rough water. Keep your composure. Be careful without being fearful.

Find beauty. We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful landscape. Take time every day to gaze at the trees and the flowers.

Be patient, kind and loving. We will learn a great deal about ourselves during the pandemic. This experience can help us become the person we hope to be.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog. Do you have a behavioral-health question related to COVID-19? Sending your questions to askdrpaul@everettclinic.com.

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