What will be “normal” in the “new, new normal?” Mental health expert weighs in

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With the COVID-19 pandemic easing in this country, and life slowly returning to normal, what exactly will that mean? ABC Audio spoke with Amanda Fialk [FALK], PhD, chief of clinical services at the treatment community The Dorm, about what to expect. 

Long story short, we’ve all experienced trauma, Dr. Fialk says, but how we process it will be different.

“It will be interesting to see what normal looks like and feels like,” Dr. Fialk says. “I think ‘normal’ is a relative concept, especially for people who struggle with mental illness. You know, I think returning to a pre-COVID type world, it doesn’t necessarily feel as exciting to people who maybe don’t struggle with mental illness.”

She explains, “People lost jobs, people lost loved ones, people were unable to participate in milestones, they stopped going to school, there’s a lot of loss and a lot of grief. And you don’t just process grief overnight.”

Dr. Fialk continues, “It’s not just gone because the imminent danger is no longer there. The lasting effects of the trauma linger…even when the outside environment is seemingly safe again.”

She explains, “You can almost compare it to…when people are…fighting in a war and the war is over. They’ve survived, they’re safe, they get to come home to their families. You would think that there’s just a ton of excitement and joy…and there might be that. But in addition to that, there’s also anxiety and fear involved in the re-entry.”  

Dr. Fialk added, “Reintegration anxiety is normal! For many it will take time to adjust. Returning to ‘normal’ life is…a journey, not a destination.” 

She suggests, “Rather than being critical or harsh or judgmental with self, be gentle and compassionate with oneself and one’s feelings.”

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