Why Americans are so desperate to ‘return to normal’

Posted at 3:59 PM, Sep 21, 2020

Since March, the nation has collectively wondered to itself when we might return to the way life was before the COVID-19 pandemic began. That fixation on returning to normalcy may be rooted deeply in the kind of purpose most people find in routines.

"Normal is like this mirage on the horizon of what life was like before February in the United States," explained Mike Serazio, who serves as an associate professor of communication at Boston College.

Just the word itself, Serazio says, brings a sense of certainty to people. With COVID-19 impacting nearly every facet of our lives, it's created a longing for the way things were, especially given how stressful life can seem right now.

"Part of what we seek in normalcy is something that is comfortable, familiar and sustainable. I think we’re all still in a daze in terms of how this has played out,” Serazio added. “The hopes this would be more temporary are not panning out.”

Beyond the word itself, there's another reason the concept of normality sticks so profoundly in our subconscious. Nicholas Wagner, who studies psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, says structure and routine help humans navigate uncertainty.

"That sense of routine and security helps provide us the bandwidth to make advances in other areas of our lives," Wagner said.

The loss of normality has deeply impacted kids. For them, patterns and routines are central to development and growth.

Wagner's advice for parents who have kids who might be struggling right now is to establish some semblance of a routine. Either setting a specific bedtime or a time during the day when chores need to be done and then hanging a calendar on the fridge that kids can visually reference.

"That sense of security will establish a new sense of normal for kids."