At some continents outbreak of covid-19 is still in progress (North and South America, Asia) but in most European countries situation is calming down, measures are being relaxed and we are slowly going back to normal. Or not? Anyway, what is normal?
There is no unique definition of normality, we use that term differently in different contexts.
In statistical context normality is defined by behavior of most people. But if we say that what being in line with social norms is normal, then we have a problem because that definition is changing with regard to the time, place, culture in which we find ourselves: what is normal in one country is not in another, what is normal in one culture is not in some other. Also, normal behavior through historical epochs is changing.
On the other hand, if we consider that normal behavior is what is characteristic of most people, we fall into the trap of accusing people who have different opinion, values, priorities... than us to be not normal (which then leads to many psychological and social issues).
In medical context normality is defined by presence/absence of some symptoms and syndromes of mental illness, based on generally accepted criteria of psychiatry. Although it has its advantages, the difficulty with this approach is that normality is not binary (either you are or you are not normal) but a continuum on which different forms of human behaviors and states are arranged; that is why most mental health professionals don.t use term normal or normality.
In the context of functionality, the individual approach is dominant, the emphasis is on the individual and the way of its usual/most common way of functioning. S.Frojd simplified definition of normality: ability to love and work; this basically means having meaningful and satisfying relationships with other people and abilities for activities that are connected with survival (work, job) and upgrade (hobbies, free time). In some people these things are permanently impaired and in some people there are occasional and temporary changes, caused by various factors. (Nowdays, both can be influenced up to some degree, with medications and psychotherapy, instead of preforming exorcism, drowning or burning people at the stake).
If a person is experiencing stress over a long period of time, it reflects badly on various aspects of its life, such as functioning at work, school, home and in interpersonal relationships (no relationships with others or they are reduced, unconstructive and maladaptive behaviors, endangering oneself or others...) and can lead to psychological disorder.
It should be emphasized that psychological disorder is the result of complex interaction of biological heritage, social influences and stressful situations.
What causes stress and in what amount is individual but we can say that we experience stress when not able to satisfy our (basic) needs: survival, security, acceptance and love in different kind of relationships, respect and selfrespect and selfactualization (Maslow.s hierarchy of motives).
For most people “normal life” is what we are used to, the way we live day by day, year by year; even if it is not quite satisfactory, we have coping mechanism to deal with stress and inability to satisfy all our wishes and desires. And when some sort of crisis come, that is not normal, we need a lot of energy to adapt, to find ways to change our daily functioning, our priorities... which “shakes ground under our feet”.
Biggest crises are those that influence many people, like natural catastrophes or pandemics like this one. When we look back, our lives don.t seem so bad, even if we felt that way before. We want to go back to “normal”; to our routines, our comfort zone, to the point where we perceived things as predictable and safe and where overall changes of the world around us were slower and partial.
But if not possible, we adapt, no matter the cost.
Beside being a very useful evolutionary given tool, beyond some point adaptation can be dangerous.
boiling the frog
Wearing masks almost all the time outside the house/closed spaces is not normal, not being able to see someone.s face expression in direct contact is not normal, thinking all the time about physical distance and being afraid to touch someone is not normal, sitting at the coffee shops and restaurants with the glass between people is not normal, not being able to hang out or have parties with more people is not normal, asking potential partner for covid test results before kiss is not normal...
well, at least it was not normal so far. Will that change?
We.ve already adapted to circumstances where our needs are not met in amount we need (spending so much time at work, tolerate all sorts of disrespect at work, not having enough time for ourselves and free time activities, reduced social contacts, reduced number of people that we are close/intimate with...); are we now on the way to adapt to things that influence our basic needs? Is heavily breathing under the mask new normal? Will fear overcome the need to be physically close to someone (which is proven beneficial to both, our immune system and mental health)? How long will we continue poisoning ourselves through skin with all sorts of disinfectants (soap not included ;))?
I hope that this new normal is not going to last for long but... new normal on a global level, economic crises with so much people who have lost their jobs or will lose it any day now, severe psychological trauma that will have long lasting effect for many people, fear for pure survival that can reduce us to basic instincts (and make us even more receptive and convenient to manipulation).... that, I.m afraid...
Time will tell, in the meantime, let.s stay focus on not becoming boiled frog ;)