May, 2020 – From what we are learning, we are now looking at an indefinite sequence of new normals. So perhaps we had better stop striving to adjust to this one or the next one and instead strive to adjust to the likelihood that a recognizable normal is not on its way.
Simply Psychology defines a social norm as “the accepted standards of behavior of social groups.” That’s about OUR behavior. What about the norms of the social group/universe in which we are doing that behavior? A Canadian researcher* coined the term “ambient stressors:”…chronic, negatively valued, nonurgent, physically perceptible, and intractable to the efforts of individuals to change them.” Intractable, out of our control: it is therefore on us to keep changing with the changes we can’t control.
I don’t want to get political so let’s just say the accepted social standards around us have changed. We are in a state of Ambient Stress. Whether we like a particular change or not is irrelevant: we have to deal with it. And stress, well documented, is harder on mind and body the longer it lasts.
So the “new normal” after 9/11, or after the 2008 recession, or after the Great Depression, or after natural disasters, or after Covid-19, or… Our proximity determines how much and how immediate change is required in the short run. In the long run, as ambient stressors pile up, we are all in for stress marathon.
Marathon training means stamina rather than a solution, endurance rather than a rescue, getting support as needed rather than toughing it out because it isn’t going out. Some people love marathons. Others of us prefer a sprint or lying on the couch. I think we can do this marathon lying on the couch but certainly not by sprint after sprint. That couch may be a therapist’s couch. Therapy isn’t a marathon, but it isn’t a sprint either.
* – Joan M. Campbell Ambient Stressors;
Environment and Behavior, vol. 15, 3: pp. 355-380. May 1, 1983.