I was in the grocery store a few weeks ago and noticed that most of the other shoppers wore a similar look.

I have seen that look before — the furrowed forehead, the worry lines in the space between brows, that wide-eyed look where you can literally see the overwhelm in another person’s eyes. I first saw it this time last year when we were just starting on this pandemic path and the fear was fresh.

I recall that fear and anxiety from April 2020. It was wrapped up in a multitude of questions: Do I go into the office to work or do I work remotely? How do I keep my business afloat? What mask should I wear? Why are some of the shelves in the stores empty? Do I disinfect all the groceries once I get them home? Can we have company over? What if I have COVID now and I don’t know it? What if I infect someone? Who takes care of my family if I get sick? Should my children go to virtual school or in person? How do I broach the topic of mask-wearing with family members who refuse without losing that relationship?

It took some time but most of us have figured a lot of it out over time. Of course, we became more comfortable talking about the ins and outs of it all and, in some ways, have had solidarity with others facing similar challenges. We have learned how to manage Zoom-land. We learned more about the disease and safety protocols and gained confidence about our ability to navigate through. We moved into new school routines and new work routines.

In short, we settled into a new normal.

That’s why I was a bit surprised to see that furrowed forehead and worry lines again. I wondered what might be behind that look. Why the look of stress when more and more of us are vaccinated and hospitalization rates are decreasing locally, and we are feeling an increased freedom to gather and socialize? Shouldn’t we be dancing in the streets?

And then it hit me ... the “look” was because things were changing. Though the vaccinations and increased choices feel good, the change that “getting back to normal” represents is still change.

Many have totally rethought the way they work, play, school, and church — and settled into those new routines. We discovered that some of those new routines aren’t so bad after all. Now we are faced with the possibility of shifting the rhythms and routines yet again, all while consciously aware of the danger those decisions might bring. None of us want to move into yet another wave of infections. It is no wonder our brows are furrowed yet again!

How do we move forward and get rid of the worry lines? I suggest we pause and breathe deeply first and then:

Consider the areas of our life the pandemic has impacted. Those areas probably include work, church, school and getting together with family and friends. Consider the changes you have made in each of these areas in the last year. What have you enjoyed? What portions do you want to keep in the new normal?

For me, I’ve realized that I like stopping for lunch to sit at an actual table to eat versus working at the computer. I’ve also discovered that I really don’t like driving to Atlanta just for the sake of a 2-hour in-person meeting that could just as easily be handled virtually now. While I like the networking aspect of in-person meetings, I don’t like spending a whole day on the road. So, I’ll keep the lunches and try to ditch the travel.

Next, think about the areas that may soon need a decision. Part of the reason for the furrowed brow is because of all the “decisions-to-be-made” that are clanking around in our heads. Get all those things out of your head and into a list.

Those likely include decisions about attending in-person church, clubs, and meetings as well as holiday planning and family gatherings. There will be school and extra-curricular activities and even vacations to consider (e.g., should you stay at Grandma’s house this year). Last, but not least, that list includes a plan for resuming a 40-hour in-person work week versus remote working (if you’ve been lucky enough to have that option to date).

Tackle one of these subject areas a week and come up with your plan. Imagine approaches and consider your own comfort level. Think about what new routines might look like. You might even want to practice addressing the inevitable questions of why you have made a particular choice.

Life has thrown us a great big curve ball in the last year. We’ve learned a lot and I’m convinced these are hopeful times. We made it through huge challenges — and we’ll make it through this next time of change as well.

Tina Bartleson is the executive director of the Exchange Club Family Resource Center, which provides in-home parent education and mentoring to families with children 0-12 years. She has 32 years experience working with families and may be contacted through www.exchangeclubfrc.org.

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