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  • Writer's pictureDr. Mary Lee Cunill

Control Freak

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

A New Norm: How our desire to be in control can harm us

My background is in Health Communication. One aspect of our research is convincing humans to take care of themselves. That may sound silly, but the evidence-based research shows that we, as humans, do things all the time that are not in our best interests. For instance, research shows that if a disease runs in your family, many people will not get tested early because they don’t want to face the fact that they might have the disease. With this in mind, the feeling of having control is a predictor of if humans take action on desired behaviors, such as getting a flu shot or avoiding fried foods.

The worldwide pandemic is contributing to many people feeling out of control. And, realistically, we cannot control the pandemic. However, we can control our daily activities and how we respond to the temporary changes during this time.

I have heard many people say this is the “new norm” and that they are concerned we may never return to “normal.” Related to feeling in control is the recognition that WE are the creators of our social norms. We, as a society, negotiate what is considered “appropriate” in varying situations. One of the reasons we are feeling out of control and agitated as a society is that we are in a growth spurt. We are having to renegotiate our current social norms to accommodate reducing the spread of the pandemic.

This uncertainty is uncomfortable. We don’t like it.

However, we do have control over our choices, and it won’t always be this way. There was a similar pandemic in 1918, and at the time, scientists were not even certain what caused the illness. Over the last 100 years, a vast amount of scientific information has brought us to this place where we understand viruses and can adapt and take action. 100 years ago people were wearing masks, just like we are today, yet most of us had never even heard of the 1918 pandemic until COVID19 showed up. Masks didn’t become a lasting social norm.

Keep this in mind as you talk about the “new norm.” This will pass. It may take longer than we hope, but we will return to being in the same physical space as others. What can we do during this time that brings about positive changes in our world, so that when we return to shared spaces, we bring the best version of ourselves?

In the meantime, let’s focus our energy on supporting our society. We can donate food, volunteer to serve, write letters, and Zoom check in on friends. Doing these behaviors will help you feel more in control, because you will be contributing to creating the world you desire—pandemic or not.

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