Cyprus Mail

Coronavirus: Hopes and fears of the new normal

'The way we do everything has changed now. How we communicate, how we work'

The main issues as we leave lockdown but continue to live with coronavirus

By Alexia Saoulli

Lockdown for most people came out of nowhere. For some, it has been a godsend. A time to slow down and breathe; to really connect with what is important. For others it has been their version of hell. Confined indoors, 24/7, with nothing but their own torturous thoughts – and the news – to keep them occupied.

And then there’s the future. What will life after lockdown look like?

There seems to be a deep sense of uncertainty regarding the future. It is mainly this uncertainty that people, both young and old, are struggling with.

Blogger, instagram influencer and podcaster, Eleni Antoniou, said she had been having a lot of conversations with her followers and what emerged most was this craving to return to normality.

“But I don’t even know what that means anymore. The uncertainty is what I think is driving most of us up the wall,” she said.

Theatre artist Nedie Antoniades echoed Antoniou’s sentiments.

“What does normality even mean?” she said.

“I don’t think anyone knows what the new norm will look like and how we are going to adapt to that will vary. The way we do everything has changed now. How we communicate, how we work,” said Antoniades.

Antoniades pointed that her industry has taken a big hit. As she spoke you could sense a feeling of deep loss and sadness.

“For theatre to exist there has to be human contact and communication. We are now looking at new ways of doing that. As a theatre artist streamed videos are not theatre. It won’t exist as I know it and I just can’t imagine it.”

Nedie Antoniades

She also worries about her children.

“They’re going to go back to school and their new norm is going to be social distancing. I’m not sure we can yet measure the long-term psychological impact of that. How do you help them foster relationships if they stay distanced from people?”

For developmental psychologist, child and adolescent psychoanalytic psychotherapist, Marguerite Orphanides pointed out that how people emerged post lockdown would all depend on pre-existing issues and difficulties.

People who were already well adjusted were likely to emerge from lockdown in a better position and to thrive than those who are not.

Orphanides said that the reality is a number of Cypriot children and teens are worrying about what the future holds. Rumours of a second lockdown, their parents’ finances etc only fuelled their anxiety further.

“What does that future hold for them? For their families? What will the new normal look like?” were just a few of the concerns the psychotherapist was helping her clients manage during this time.

There was also a polarising sense of anger, she said. Anger directed at individuals perceived not to be taking enough precautionary measures, such as donning masks while out shopping, while others feeling frustrated that their rights were being curtailed.

And then there’s the sense of loss.

Much-looked-forward-to events like proms and leavers’ dances have been cancelled which has led to great disappointment, said Orphanides.

Students who had dedicated two years of their lives preparing for A-level exams followed by studies abroad were now having to manage and reassess their expectations, she added.

“There are a lot of questions and unknowns. Am I going to go back to school? Will everything be moved online? I think it’s the uncertainty that’s getting to them,” she said.

Orphanides said some children and teens were feeling very depressed by lockdown and that the effects of no social interaction were definitely having an impact on them.

“I actually read a research paper that found the impact on the brain from having no social interaction is the same as food starvation,” she added.

For other children, where one or both parents are considered high risk due to underlying health conditions, the virus poses a very real and viable threat.

This issue is compounded by parental anxiety, said Orphanides.

“If parents are afraid, then instantly the children are affected,” she said.

“It also depends on character traits, if one is an introvert or an extrovert, one’s level of sociability, support system, which developmental phase they are at etc.

“We can’t plan for the future because we don’t what that is going to look like but what we can do is talk to children, depending on their level of maturity and understanding to alleviate their concerns,” she said.

Orphanides urged parents not to overlook the emotional aspect and to be vigilant of what is going on in their children’s internal worlds and how changes in their behaviour can serve as indications of internal stress and not just misbehaviour.

“Outbursts, tantrums, acting out are usually an indication that something is wrong with a child. So parents should take these as warning signs and they should try to help children understand what is going on.”

Eleni Antoniou

But Antoniou argues that parents don’t always even understand what is going on. From talking to parents who follow her blog and podcast, lockdown has been especially hard on parents who are trying to manage their own emotions while also dealing with their children’s.

“Many are working and homeschooling and trying to tackle house chores and a myriad of other things that just make it all the more difficult to sit still and understand what is going on.”

Yet, like Orphanides, Antoniou feels that people’s life outlook will determine what sort of impact our future reality will look like.

“The uncertainty of this global pandemic and all it implies is what has even the most conscious and mentally-stable individuals questioning life in general really. Now what kind of impact, I think it depends on everyone’s outlook on life,” sad Antoniou.

Orphanides believes people will adapt to the new reality. What that will look like she could not say.

“What the long-term effects [of lockdown] will be is dependent on the conditions and environment that emerges. People are adaptable and so will adapt to new situations and conditions. We have no choice. How we adapt, however, will depend on what the new reality looks like and on what our internal psychic strengths are,” Orphanides said.

But what of the 20-something year olds? How are they coping?

Monica Christophides, 23 and a recent graduate, said she feels a mixture of frustration and gratitude.

“I came back to Cyprus to work for six months so that I could save up enough money and go back to the UK in September to look for work. I wanted to have some work experience and money saved up so I wouldn’t have to live pay cheque to pay cheque once back in the UK.”

However since lockdown her job has been put on hold and she is now living at home with her parents, with no other job in sight.

“It’s like my plans have been stalled and there’s a lot of waiting around.”

On the flip side, she’s enjoyed keeping up with her hobbies like music and exercise. Things she’d put off while working and studying.

“I am grateful to have this time. But it would be great to know when the ball is going to get rolling. It’s like my career has been stalled by two months.”

Cypriot student Spyroula Iacovou, 23, is currently in the UK completing her master’s degree. She intends to return to Cyprus at the end of this month.

For her lockdown has triggered a feeling of powerlessness. She is anxious how the stressful impact of lockdown will affect her degree, as well as her future. Originally she had planned to remain in the UK and look for work. Unhappy with how the UK government has handled Covid-19 she has decided to return home where she will feel safer.

“I think how we view the world will change. We will start to appreciate even the smallest things and be more careful…. But I don’t feel like this is the end of the world. Better days are coming for sure. I know that it is going be hard to find a job now, but things will change so I am not worrying about it too much. There is nothing we can do but wait to until things improve.”

She is determined to stay positive.

“I like to be optimistic and hope for the best. If things don’t work out for me the way I expect, I always look for a different way to get things working.”

And what about the professionals, who are both parents and also contribute to the Cyprus economy. Depending on how the latter fares post lockdown will also impact family life and therefore how well children adapt to the new norms.

Athina Panayiotou, director general of the Cyprus Certification Company shares these concerns. From a professional perspective Panayiotou has been working more than ever to put in place mitigation measures for 2020 and 2021. Nevertheless, her industry would undoubtably be impacted and many of her customers in the hotel industry were rightly concerned, she said.

“Businesses providing food will also be affected. Simply put: they will be selling less because fewer people will be eating in Cyprus. Fewer tourists, less need for food, fewer rental cars, less of everything,” she said.

As a parent of four, Panayiotou said her two older children seemed to be coping better than her three-and-a-half year-old twin boys.

“They keep asking, when will this illness go away… they definitely know that this not the norm,” she said.

The children, who spend a lot of time with their grandparents, have not seen them since lockdown measures were enforced.

Christianna Diogenous, CEO of Unicars, paints a similar picture.

“There is definitely a sense of life passing you by especially with missed celebrations of loved ones birthdays, anniversaries, etc,” she said.

One of the hardest hit sectors are single women and men who are not quite old enough to be considered vulnerable but nor are they young enough to have parents looking out for them. The missed generation of sorts. People who live alone and struggle with their mental health, and don’t really have anywhere they feel they can turn. People who relied on going to work for social interaction.

Ioanna Papantoniou, 42, who lives alone, said she found herself living in what felt like a constant daze.

“I often feel like I’m not actually living my life myself. That it’s like having glimpses from some weird movie. Everything seems surreal.”

Papantoniou said it had taken a few weeks to get used to the rules of lockdown and now she felt like she’d fallen into a hermit-like existence where she was afraid to step outside and to interact with people.

“Not due to a phobia of the virus so much, but a phobia that I will not remember how to interact with people, be sociable and stuff like that,” she said.

The bank clerk admitted that she now had more time to think about underlying issues in her life and that it had been creating a lot of the stress, sadness and negativity she was feeling.

Papantoniou said she really missed having a connection with people and expressed feeling very isolated and cut off.

Working from home also felt like work was invading her home life, despite the benefits of no commute, better concentration and having more protection from the virus.

“I also have a job. I shouldn’t complain. Hopefully after some time of more normal human interaction we will remember how that was done before… I just know that now when I see policeman when I’m out I start feeling anxious like I’m doing something illegal,” said Papantoniou.

But there is also hope. A sense of wellbeing emerging. A sense of connection between family members and an opportunity to slow down.

Stella Georgiou, a working mother of three, said at first she’d found herself on edge and agitated. Unsure and afraid of the unknown.

In reality lockdown turned out not to be so bad.

“The days fly by. We have managed to slow down and enjoy each other. I have managed to get stuff done that I didn’t have time to do before,” she said.

“There have been good days and not so good days, but for me overall it’s been a time to breathe. The kids have enjoyed their time at home even though they miss their friends and socialising.”

But the children have been affected. Her middle daughter is upset as it’s her last year at primary school and she’s missed the fun last few months of school with her friends.

“My son, who is seven, is most affected I would say. He has outbursts and can’t understand what is going on. He misses his friends, grandparents and extended family and the daily routine he was used to.”

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