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The Illusion of Normalcy in the Age of COVID-19

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An optical illusion

An optical illusion

The Meaning of Normalcy

The thought of when normalcy will return to the world after the changes caused by COVID-19 has affected most of us. With the losses of lives, income, and restrictions in place, it’s no surprise that humanity is craving normalcy to resume.

Then, we can go back to enjoying life, working, and traveling to wherever we want to — the way we used to.

We are in an era of world war, the war against a disease that has no respect for borders. It’s been a while now, and maybe you are getting used to the social behaviors we have embraced.

However, like any other experience of drastic change, you long to resume the life you have always known. Here, submitting to that longing for normality and resuming the now “old ways” might cause more suffering than the pain of patience.

You may have heard these statements in the news, conversations, social media, and you have used them or thought them:

  • going back to normalcy
  • returning to normalcy
  • having a semblance of normalcy
  • wanting some normalcy

What does normalcy mean?

Normalcy and normality mean the same thing.

Normalcy refers to “a situation where everything is as you would expect it to be.” -Oxford Advanced American Dictionary

The current situation is uncommon. Hence, the normal ways of going about the business of life have been interrupted. For some, the situation is so bad that it may seem there’s no hope for the future. And they may defy the restrictions because they have to. Otherwise, how would they survive? No wonder it’s a frustrating time, and people want to resume normalcy.

Normalcy is being able to do things that give you a sense of control. The pandemic has shattered this. It has affected the things individuals did that enhanced a sense of control over their lives.

Definition of normal: "typical, usual or ordinary; what you would expect" Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

Normalcy is an Illusion

Notwithstanding the uncertainty and unsettling thoughts. You are not alone. The family of humankind is dealing with many obscurities because of the COVID situation.

Normalcy is an illusion because things are just as they are, not necessarily as you think they are. The earth we are on is still rotating. The other problems we faced pre-COVID 19 are still occurring. Criminals are still active. People are still dying from other causes not related to the COVID-19.

The New Normality is an Illusion

The New Normality is an Illusion

What Sustains the Illusion of Normalcy?

1. The Normalcy Bias

Are you frustrated by the inability to return to the old ways of doing things as you always have done them?

“Right now, things are unusual, but this is only transient.”

You feel so because the pandemic is not a normal situation. It is not part of your normal life.

The illusion of normalcy is a psychological bias referred to as the “normalcy bias.”

You expect the situation will continue as it did in the past. Thus, you feel in control because you assume things will continue as they always have.

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Unfortunately, you may underestimate the gravity of the situation because you want to keep a semblance of normalcy amid a disaster.

However, remember this is not a simple, unusual situation. It deviates from what the world at large is used to and you might have to live with it for a while.
You are used to the old ways of doing things and you want it to return.

Nevertheless, normalcy is a relative term. Although “the new normal” has affected many people negatively, it has also created new opportunities for others.

For some cleaning hands frequently, wearing masks, spending most of the time away from people was normal.

You want to go back to earning an income, traveling the world, and such. For those who had no intention of traveling around the world, that phase of normalcy doesn’t affect them directly.

Normalcy is like a mirage that disappears when you get to it. Therefore, it’s not a firm foundation to base your entire life on. When you try to confine the flowing, untameable reality of human life in specific expectations of normalcy, you will end up suffering more than necessary. `

Normalcy (or normality) has a wide range of applications. So, the desire to return to the so-called normalcy depends on individual perspectives of the world.

Humans have a way to solve problems and cope with them. In your personal life when something devastating happens, you long for that previous state when things were great and controlled. However, you can’t go back there. The past is gone. You are here now. What you can do is adapt and be patient with your ability to get used to the new reality.

You may call it “the new normality.” Although life is odd and way off from the perceived normalcy, the new will soon get the pedestal for “normalcy.” Hence, “the new normal” is an illusion. If it’s normal, how is it new?

2. The Obsession with Normalcy

Thinking things will continue as normal is helpful. It can prevent overacting and opting to exaggerate acts to make it seem normal with the opposite effect. However, being obsessed with normalcy can have an adverse effect on your life because normalcy is an illusion.

You have your specific definition of normality. It might be similar to some, but different from others.

What exactly do you want to return to?

A return to normalcy is a return to the old ways. Why would we want that now with a life-threatening disease that we have not contained yet?

Why do you want to return to normal? You had plans which have been put on hold. You took the daily routines which seem small for granted, and now you realize their value and you miss it.

To some degree, the negative impact like losses of income and freedom of traveling the world are “necessary evils.” These preventive measures enhance the chance of saving as many lives as possible. Prevention is cheaper than cure.

Therefore, as you chase a return to normalcy be specific, and watch your speed too. As a result, you’ll minimize the impact of poorly calculated choices and worse negative consequences, which you could otherwise avoid.

Restoring Normalcy

If in the past people resisted change completely and refused to accept the different ways of doing things, humanity would still be so far from civilization.

Therefore, ensure your obsession with a return to normalcy doesn't become a resistance to change. The situation demands you to accept it.

A hundred years from now, future generations will look at this as a primitive era. Contemporary human beings don't do some things of the past generations, because they did away with them as they developed technologically, socially, and psychologically.

Sometimes the advancements were gradual. Sometimes they were fast as in the great changes we are going through.

It's not about tangible things, but the sense of control we miss. For the industries directly related to hygiene, normalcy means going back to a state where sales were minimal, and the average citizen didn't care about hand sanitizers.

The normalcy of before is being less vigilant about health, less concern about sitting next to strangers in public, lots of handshakes, and body contact without handwashing.

What you can do is adapt and be patient with your ability to get used to the new reality.

The Constant Aim: Adapting to New Ways

The obsession with normalcy is just resistance to change. Clinging to the old ways when the surrounding requires a novel way is a sure way to undue stress, anxieties, and avoidable problems.

At the moment, resorting to the normal activities without precaution will worsen the situation, and take it further from the return of the normalcy you so desire.

You need to radically change the way you live, do business, or go to work. The sooner you accept this change, the faster you’ll find novel ways to get on with living.

Unfortunately, new patterns and habits are a challenge and difficult for most people to accommodate.

Some obvious changes needed include:

  • Students and teachers rely more on online learning.
  • Companies use novel ways of conducting their businesses.
  • People can still get married and have kids, although weddings have been checked.
  • People can still worship God, although the ways of worshiping have changed.

A Sense of Control

Performing old habits with extra strength (hand-washing has always been a recommendation) is one way of adapting to the situation on earth as it is. It elicits some sense of control.

What we want is a return to that sense of stability and control that we seem to have lost. Yet, they were just illusions.

Anyway, you can achieve the feeling of having control by embracing the novel practices, and forming creative solutions to your problems.


What you can do is accept the lessons this pandemic has taught the world. Accept new and more efficient ways of doing things. Create new inventions to enhance your adaptability to the current environment. The sole aim is to ensure life goes on. This aim remains constant—it is normal even amid the unusual situation.

Adapting to change is tough. Still, you can adapt and find new creative solutions. Although now it may seem more challenging to move forward than to revert to life before the COVID-19 pandemic, humans adapt quickly. Masks have become normalized on a global scale. In the era before coronavirus pandemic, wearing a mask and walking down the street would have received weird looks and judgments of insanity.


Normalizing New Behaviors

Nonetheless, it appears the world is heading toward a global culture in which wearing face masks is normal, and not wearing will be an unprecedented thing.

Hence, adapting to change is about normalizing new behaviors instead of only holding a desire to regain some semblance of normalcy.

If you see adopting safety precautions from diseases as a deviation from normalcy, what will a failure to adopt them cause?

As you attempt to return to normalcy, what you are doing is finding ways to accept and survive despite the situation until you feel comfortable and safe again. It will become “the normal.”

Awareness of Moral Responsibility

Coronavirus is revolutionizing the world. Improved public hygiene is being marketed and advertised more than liquor.

Activities you were doing before but took for granted at the time have become crucial. They were at the cost of individual health, but now since it affects the entire world, public health concerns have gained their deserved importance.

Personal preventive measures from respiratory diseases have always been there before, but for some people, the need to follow through was not in their consciousness.

Take what is useful to carry forward with you. Also, quit all the public health behaviors which no longer sustain the survival of humanity. So fulfill your moral responsibility for this.

Normalcy: Lessons from Other Pandemics

Even if science finds a lasting cure to COVID-19, it will still be there and we will still need to take the preventive measures. It’s like HIV and the changes it caused in the world.

Before it, people wouldn’t worry about their behavior (some still don’t) but at least it brought changes into the world, and in time having HIV became a normal thing in society so that even though there’s stigma, people became more vigilante with their health.

Science discovered innovative solutions to prevent mother-to-child transmissions, where before mothers didn’t have to worry about such issues. It became normal to get an HIV test when you go to the hospital.

Pandemics have occurred on earth before. They shook the world the way COVID-19 is doing now. 2020 is a critical part of history since people are changing habits on a global scale.

Soon protective measures will become a part of "normal" life. The global public hygiene will probably increase. Considering, when we wear masks and wash the hands frequently to protect ourselves from coronavirus, we prevent other diseases too.

For instance, the pandemic has moved governments to mandate the use of face masks. For the ordinary citizen, especially millennials, and those who never experienced epidemics before, masks seem restrictive and are a constant reminder of the threat of disease and mortality.

It has taken the threat of a virulent pandemic and the threat of global mortality, for governments to re-examine their health structures and reconsider improving public health.

Science will have research and provide findings of this. The next generation of theses will have topics assessing the psychological, economic, and medical impact of COVID-19 to specific demographic groups.

Instead of fighting the new, take new actions to keep moving despite the threat of COVID-19.

Despite the public health crisis, you can still care for yourself and others. Change social behaviors which will put you at high risk.

Your humanness, ability to love, care, protect, adapt, and survive—these are still available for you to use.

Final Thoughts

The illusion of normalcy and the illusion of control are related. They are not the real deal, but just a “sense of.” This sense of normalcy and control is what we live for according to individual perceptions of what is normal and what isn’t.

With a good mental schema, you can deal with the perceived loss of normalcy by taking personal responsibility for your needs.

You need a complete shift of mind to recognize the liberation we are going through. Although difficult we will soon adapt and continue with the daily business of life; enjoying social interactions, moving from one place to another, working freely, because these aspects have not been eliminated, but have revolutionized because of COVID-19.

The pandemic, in unique ways, has made humanity more aware of its mortality and vulnerability in the face of disease.

If you return to the old way too soon, the results will be devastating, because COVID-19 is real but illusions are not.

The real thing admitted and unrefuted is that there’s a virus called COVID-19. There was a time before COVID-19 (that time is gone) and time after COVID-19 (that time is now.)

Focus, not on a gradual return to normalcy, but a gradual adaptation and acceptance of the current repugnant situation and making the best out of it.

Give up the illusion that normalcy brings sustained happiness, in favor of a constant aim to shift in perception and adapt.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Centfie


Centfie (author) from Kenya on July 14, 2020:

Dora Weithers, thank you very much for reading and leaving your kind comments.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 14, 2020:

"So-called normalcy depends on individual perspectives of the world." So we are not necessarily expecting the same thing; each of us wants what makes us comfortable. Your article has given us much to consider about what we really want. Thank you.

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