The idea of a new normal is a mistake, say wellbeing researchers

August 26, 2021

The idea of a new normal is a mistake, say wellbeing researchers

The Family and Resilience Wellbeing Research Team which conducted the research (clockwise, from back left): Professor Nickola Overall, Associate Professor Annette Henderson, Dr Rachel Low, Dr Valerie Chang, Caitlin McRae and Nina W addell.

A pending study from the University of Auckland shows staying in touch with our emotions is more important now than ever.

Researcher Nickola Overall, from the university’s School of Psychology, says the suggestion Kiwis needs to get used to a new normal is unhelpful for those struggling in lockdown.

“This idea that we’re in a new normal, and we should just be able to know how to do it, I think, is a mistake.

“Whatever anyone is feeling right now, it’s okay. Whether they’re feeling anxious or uncertain, whether they’re angry that [lockdown has] happened, whether they’re sad—whatever those feelings emotions are—they provide important information for us to know how to cope,” Dr Overall says.

The study found suppressing negative emotions and overthinking can cause “greater psychological distress, poorer wellbeing, and lower objective health”.

“If you suppress your negative emotions, it’s actually really ineffective at making you feel better. It tends to exacerbate negative emotions.

“It also means that you can’t recognise what stress you’re feeling and why,” Dr Overall says.

Suppressed negative emotions can cause people to lash out at those in their bubble. It also makes it harder for those around us to help with our emotional needs, she says.

The study, which researchers hope will be published soon after a lockdown-related delay, collected data from families all over New Zealand, both before and during last year’s nationwide level-four lockdown.

It found maintaining strong relationships, co-parenting, and finding the positives in a bad situation are the best ways for families to stay emotionally healthy during lockdown.

But although Dr Overall recognises that you can’t always find a “silver lining”, she says our relationships are “what’s going to get us through this”.

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