Navigating the New Normal

Individually and collectively, resilience is key to forging the "new normal."

- December 1, 2021

Part of what makes these times so challenging is that we derive meaning from our relationship with others.
Part of what makes these times so challenging is that we derive meaning from our relationship with others.

“LOCKDOWN,” “ASYMPTOMATIC” and “pivot” are some of the phrases that have entered the vernacular over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic—phrases most of us would probably prefer to never hear again. It would also be a relief to no longer need the words “challenging” and “unprecedented” to describe the times in which we are living. But it’s the phrase “new normal” that we seem to struggle with most, perhaps because even as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, whatever the new normal is going to be is still a moving target. In response to this prolonged uncertainty, one word has risen to prominence: resilience.

Dalhousie’s Athletics and Recreation Department, headed up by Executive Director Tim Maloney, has focused on resilience throughout these difficult times. Recreation facilities at Dal normally see more than 700,000 visitors pass through the turnstiles each year and play an important role in the daily lives of people in the community both on and off campus. For rec facilities to comply with closure requirements and capacity restrictions, flexibility was paramount. “I think the team of coaches and staff quickly adopted the philosophy that we were going to make the very best out of whatever this situation presented,” Maloney says. At times, that meant operating at 25 per cent of usual capacity and by appointment only. It meant student athletes working out virtually with soup cans standing in as dumbbells and with backyards, chairs and sofas standing in as training grounds. Despite the frustration and sense of loss this occasionally caused, particularly among student athletes facing a cancelled final season of their careers, for the most part a positive mindset was the prevailing one. “For graduating students, that was the last time they were going to be putting on a Dal jersey, so it was a difficult way to end their careers,” Maloney says. “But I think they were appreciative and understanding.”

One of these student athletes, Shamar Burrows (BA’21), #24 of the Dal Tigers men’s basketball team, might have missed his final season as an undergrad, but he’s returned for the 2021-22 season as a master’s student in Public Administration. He’s happy to be back to in-person classes and to be back on the court. “I’m excited to have team bonds and to get to know all of my teammates. We’re all excited about it.”

"[We] quickly adopted the philosophy that we were going to make the very best out of whatever this situation presented."

Burrows’ sentiments are echoed by many at Dal. The month of September is a rich and lively time on campus when the energy and excitement are palpable. For new students, leaving home and heading to university is a major developmental milestone. Because learning was all online last year in response to the pandemic, this year a double cohort made its way to campus for the first time. And students aren’t the only ones returning. Many of the faculty and staff who worked away from campus throughout the pandemic have been leaving their home offices, makeshift or otherwise, and making the commute to campus, at least on a part-time basis. They’re catching up with those who’ve never left, who’ve remained on campus for the entirety of the pandemic to keep the physical spaces of the university running and ready for the return. What this means is that everyone in the Dal community is in a period of transition—so, that along with the predictable excitement that comes with fall and the return to classes, there also lingers a sense of uncertainty and concern for the safety of the community, feelings that are much less predictable.

PART OF WHAT makes these times so challenging is that we derive meaning from our relationships with others, and nearly everyone has experienced moments of disconnection and isolation over the past two years. Dr. David Pilon, the director of Counselling and Psychological Services says there’s a feeling of anticipation, that it’s time to reclaim our world, but that people will need a chance to get used to fewer restrictions at their own pace. “Stress is the impact of difference,” he says, “and how we perceive change informs whether we see difficulty or opportunity.” There has certainly been no shortage of change during the past two years. In addition to the global COVID-19 crisis, we’ve witnessed watershed moments in terms of conversations around climate change, around race and civil rights. “There may be some challenging waves to come,” says Dr. Pilon, “when we exhale and allow ourselves to think: ‘What did I just live through?’”

Dr. Pilon’s advice on how to deal with the stress that comes with uncertainty and to foster more resilience? Vulnerability and compassion. He says the way forward is to allow ourselves to appreciate how we’ve responded, adapted and learned from our experiences over the past two years, and to approach ourselves and others with extra thoughtfulness. “We have a nurturing and caring community at Dalhousie. We need to be aware and mindful of where we are at both individually and collectively.” Which means, as we make our way through a period when even commonplace situations feel unfamiliar, as we continue to navigate challenges, it’s more important than ever that we give ourselves time and space to focus on resilience so we can contribute to forging our new normal.

This story appeared in the DAL Magazine Fall 2021 issue. Flip through the rest of the Fall 2021 issue using the links below.


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus