Psychological techniques to face the “New Normal” | Sunday Observer

Psychological techniques to face the “New Normal”

24 January, 2021

Over the past couple of years more and more students have been turning to mental health service providers within the tertiary education set up. However, as there are a limited number of such provisions in the Sri Lankan university set up, it is important to look at this issue from a new angle. Instead of focusing on increasing the number of service providers within the education setup many countries now focus on ways to empower students to safeguard their own mental health by making them aware about possible psychological tools to use when faced with stressful situations. University life can be challenging in itself. Add a pandemic into the equation and you have a near impossible feat to overcome.

If we compare the new year to the beginning of last year we would see several differences:

1. The sense of uncertainty is paramount as the pandemic has made life very unpredictable to a point where we do not know whether we will be in our own home tomorrow or in a quarantine centre.

2. Increase in the levels of stress due to the fear of contracting the virus as well as the loss of normality experienced in our lives. Students are faced with the daunting task of adjusting to the “new normal” with learning shifting to a completely online platform along with being stuck at home and unable to meet friends. With the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic this has become an even larger need of the day. This article will highlight several psychological techniques that can be used in day-to-day life by students to weather the current, uncertainty ridden life which we inevitably have to face.

1. Changing how we think: It’s the nature of the human mind to overestimate the period of time an unfortunate incident will last for and also to expect an intensely positive event to last longer. So we would want the pandemic situation to end quickly.

Since it is not likely to happen very soon we are more likely to get frustrated. Similarly, we might want the chats and the calls that have replaced our daily meetups with friends to last longer as our happiness and our sanity at times are tied to these events.

Uplifting our moods

However, it is important to understand that when bad things happen the feeling of negativity is not going to last forever and similarly the sense of happiness we experience is also not going to remain the same. There would always be daily hassles and daily upliftment which would lower our feelings of happiness or fuel our pleasures. In the current pandemic since the feelings of negativity might be more pronounced we might need to seek out ways to uplift our mood more.

a. When you are online, create a positive mind set: create a sense of community when you are online chatting with your friends. Make sure you ask them how they are. We are supposed to engage in “physical” distancing and not necessarily “social” distancing so we can chat and talk to people a bit more. However, try to not base these conversations on Covid-19. Talk about something funny that happened to you, share a juicy piece of gossip. All this will create a sense of fulfillment and will help to secrete feel-good hormones in your body and thereby automatically reducing stress.

b) Explore humour: we do not say “laughter is the best medicine” for nothing. Look at funny memes and have a good laugh. Some people collect memes and put them in one folder so when you feel down you can go through them again and have a good laugh.

c) Express your emotions using emojis: Though we have taken emojis for granted those smileys do much more than helping us to communicate how we feel. Using emojis has been found to be one way of expressing emotions which gives the person using them a sense of emotional release and it has also been linked to displaying that you are approachable and empathetic.


2) Understand that we might not be able to control all that is around us. When we are not in control, which is the typical case when we are faced with a pandemic, the level of stress we feel will also increase.

The question is do we NEED to be in control all the time? What are the things that we are in control of? We are in control of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour but we cannot control other peoples’ thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

For example, if we have returned back to university and boarded we might be worrying about our parents and whether they are ok. In such a scenario we have to think about what is within our control and what is not. What is in our control is the ability to schedule a time to call them and check how they are. What is not in our control is their health outcomes. We cannot control them or their life choices. It’s important to let go of worrying about things that are not within our control.

3) Structure your day and have a plan B always: Sometimes it might be difficult for us to concentrate and do our work these days. Recognize that this is an issue and try to do the maximum that you can. Have a schedule for your day that roughly matches your usual day on campus. Wake up at the same time, have something to eat, “travel” to the place you usually do your work (which could be your work table in your room!), spend the usual lecture hours you would have spent on campus listening to lecture recordings or making notes.

Just as you drop by the canteen to have a chat with your friends over a cup of tea, make time to call your friends or pass a couple of messages back and forth. Have a routine that works for you and helps you to complete your work even though you are not on campus.

Managing feelings

Adjusting to the online platform would be tough if you specially have an almost non-existent internet connectivity. Have a plan B for such occasions. Is there a possibility of getting your friend to discuss what was taught during the lecture via a call? Is there a library close by which would allow you to download the notes to look through. These plan Bs will help you to keep afloat and help better manage feelings of helplessness and frustration.

4) Gratitude: recognize and appreciate even the small things in your life. When there does not seem to be anything positive around you, you need to train your brain to dig deeper to recognize the silver lining. It could be something simple like being able to read this paper today, be thankful that you are fine and your family is ok. When more positive thoughts are brought into our mind this activates areas in the brain which enables us to generally notice the positivity more in our day-to-day life.

5) ABCDE way of disputing negative thoughts

As the model given shows, when we face different situations in life which might not exactly go as we planned it is natural for us to have negative thoughts and then we act on those thoughts and then regret those actions afterwards.

What we can do on such occasions is to catch that initial thought and challenge it by asking “is this thought actually rational?” “Do I have any basis to think like this?”. Imagine a situation where your friend calls you and says she cannot come with you to the gift shop to help you to buy something for your boyfriend’s birthday due to the Covid situation.

A variety of thoughts might pop into your mind. You might think “why is she doing this to me? I have always gone with her whenever she wanted to”, “She is a terrible friend” and then you might argue with her and she might get angry herself and retort back and this will continue till one of you’ll cut the call.

Irrational thoughts

If we really explore and think about the thoughts and try to see whether they are rational it will be much easier to lessen the feeling of being let down. Is she actually a terrible friend? is her concern justifiable as going out is anyway risky with a pandemic situation. Hasn’t she always been there for you otherwise?

When you try to challenge the initial irrational thought it becomes easier to replace them with more rational forms of thinking, thereby preventing the emotional rollercoaster which otherwise would have resulted.

6) Limit your exposure to social media: social media does have its positives. Especially with the current pandemic, social media has enabled us to maintain our social life which is an essential element as humans are social beings.

However, seeking out information relating to Covid-19 extensively is more likely to increase the anxiety that you might be already experiencing. A research study relating to the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2016 found that people who seek out information relating to this event for more than six hours a day had more acute stress levels than even those individuals who had direct exposure to the incident.

Obsessively following news items relating to Covid-19 is only going to feed into your anxiety and it’s also not like all news items are going to be entirely accurate. Therefore limiting your exposure to such items (to 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening) and also tapping into your logical thinking abilities as a university student when assessing the accuracy of such news items is also important.

Consistency is key when it comes to using these psychological tools. With a pandemic or without one our academic and life goals can be accomplished albeit with a little adjustment here and there. If we can embrace the new normal while being a little bit more compassionate towards ourselves and people around us during this difficult period, facing this new year would be a less daunting experience.