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Returning to normal mindset may be difficult after pandemic

According to local experts, the way our minds assess risk and make decisions has been changed by the coronavirus, and it may stay that way even after the crisis ends.

Posted: Apr 24, 2020 6:17 PM
Updated: Apr 24, 2020 6:52 PM

EUGENE, Ore.-- According to local experts, the way our minds assess risk and make decisions has been changed by the coronavirus, and it may stay that way even after the crisis ends.

According to Oregon State University School of Psychological Science director Kathryn Becker-Blease, reports show that even as parts of China exit lockdown, many residents are still experiencing increased stress and feelings of uncertainty.

"It's that kind of that surreal feeling we feel right now when we go outside and it's kind of weird. That weirdness feeling is persisting. People around the world are continuing to feel stressed," she said.

Though fear of the coronavirus can fade, a sense of risk doesn't always end. If various aspects of life reopen in phases as officials plan, recalculating risks and deciding what action is safe or appropriate may be an ongoing stressor.

"They're going to have to calibrate their behavior to the risk level multiple times over multiple years," said Becker-Blease.

According to Becker-Blease, building habits and routines in the new normal can help you accept uncertainty and develop long-term behaviors that can be beneficial.

University of Oregon Center for Science Communication Research director Ellen Peters is studying reactions to coronavirus over months as the pandemic unfolds.

Peters says that when assessing risk, many use the past to make reasonable predictions for the future. With such a distinctive event in recent memory, the way some assess risk may stay tied to life during the pandemic.

"That emotion is going to stay with them. I think they are going to be uncertain about if they want to go out in crowds. Maybe they are going to keep more supplies of food on hand," she said.

According to Peters, these learned behaviors can be healthy, like increased hygiene or attention to mental health. For the foreseeable future, these behaviors could protect some against a possible second wave of the virus, while others are caught unaware.

"We do try to understand exactly what's going on. But in the end, we pay attention to our gut feelings and it's those gut feelings that drive us to act or not act," said Peters.

Oregon State General Psychology Program directory Regan Gurung also believes that a challenging element of recovering from the pandemic may be returning to healthy coping mechanisms.

While some people are more resilient than others, many have turned to avoidance coping during this time.

According to Gurung, avoidance coping behaviors can include venting, denial and substance abuse. While these behaviors can be effective for some, a healthy mix of actions including head-on approaches like problem solving and creating routines can prepare you for an easier return to normal.

"We've got to switch into that mode of, 'OK, we've avoided stuff, now lets approach it and do something about it,'" he said.

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