Six Simple Tips to Help Get Back to Normal

It seems as though we’re reopening, whether we’re ready or not. Here in NY, our numbers are showing that we can implement a reopen plan in certain regions. A majority of people I’ve spoken to are still emotionally unready. 

I believe that most of us are reasonable and want to make the best decisions. The narrative of there being two “sides” is wrong. It’s not “I want the economy to fail for my safety” vs “we need to reopen because the virus isn’t serious and the negative effects of the economy will be worse.”

I, for one, want us to be able to get back to normal and stay there. I don’t want my colleagues in danger. I don’t want my friends, family, and patient family to be in danger.

These thoughts are what circle everyone’s mind when we see others reopening. Just the idea of reopening is creating anxiety. The tension is palpable in grocery stores and businesses that are open. 

I want to lay out some tips to hopefully help in two ways. First, I want you to be more confident in your own safety in this weird post-quarantine-but-pre-vaccine period. Second, as I’ve harped on a bunch, I want you to help make this weird, confusing, uncertain world a better place for everyone else.

Here are 6 tips for navigating the path back to normal.

1. Understand it’s still a mess out there and COVID is still dangerous

Many of us are guarded about reopening because we know this disease isn’t a joke. It’s insidious and severe. We’ve heard the stories of old and young, healthy and sick dying from COVID or recovering and having permanent negative effects.

This hasn’t gone away. I saw a great meme: 

No matter what BS COVID conspiracy videos circulate, this is real and this new phase requires vigilance, not relaxation.

2. Stay home if you’re not ready

I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines, “80% of people are like f*ck that I’m not going out in this mess.”

However, about 40% of them seem to be out and about right now in Woodstock trying to get take-out brunch…

Just because we are opening up, whatever that means, it doesn’t mean you HAVE to go out. Yes, I understand people need to make money and Elon Musk says we gotta make these Teslas, but there are options. If you have the liberty to stay home, please take it. I would continue on as you have over the past 8-10 weeks.

I want everyone to know it’s OK to not be 100% productive “good citizens” in this. There are forces trying to get the economy moving again because it is better for them. They’re safe and don’t care if you or your loved ones get sick or die. Instead of uniting us, they’re dividing us. Instead of supporting and protecting our front line, they’re ignoring them. 

Do what you need to do to ensure your own safety.

This was a meme circulating that I thought was a nice sentiment. I believe it can apply to those in quarantine but not “working” in a formal way:

  1. You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
  2. Your personal physical, mental, and emotional health is far more important than anything else right now.
  3. You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
  4. You will be kind to yourself and not judge how you see others coping.
  5. You will be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.
  6. Your team’s success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.

Let’s stop with unreasonable expectations. We failed in preventing this, and now it’s a mess for ALL OF US. We are all together in this mess. It’s ok to not be 100%. Your money problem is solved with a job. There’s a bigger climb to achieve closure to trauma. Connect with your loved ones. Come to a peace within. Make important things important.

3. Wear a mask because the mask debate is stupid.

We were wrong on the mask front previously. We were focused on preventing people from getting sick and masks won’t stop the virus from making its way to your mouth/nose/throat, which we know that most people won’t use the right masks the right way to help.

Since this thing is now everywhere, universal mask-wearing WILL help. It won’t help YOU, but it will help someone else. It doesn’t need to be 100%, but anything to blunt the spread of this is a lifesaver at this point, literally.

The articles I’m reading studying the efficacy of cloth masks overwhelmingly state that we’ll drastically reduce transmission. Here’s an excellent one summarizing many of the findings. 

Here’s what you should know about masks and COVID, using the best data from around the world as of now:

  • COVID seems to be almost entirely droplet-spread. When we talk, cough, yell, or breathe we eject big and small droplets that contain the virus. The viral load of COVID droplets seems to be VERY high compared to others.
  • Masks reduce large droplets from spreading almost entirely while also reducing droplet spread by almost 70%. Without a mask, the little microboogies go about 16 feet! In fact, 87% of a choir practice was infected by a single person. With any cloth covering as a mask, that is reduced to about 3.5 feet. Physically staying distant matters as much as mask-wearing.
  • COVID probably doesn’t persist on surfaces. COVID has been found on surfaces for some time, but it seems sun and humidity inactivate COVID in under 2 hours. The preliminary data that was the basis for “injecting sunlight into the body” has been confirmed, and environmental exposure seems to kill COVID.
  • You can still get COVID if someone doesn’t cough on you. If someone coughs into their hands then handles your stuff, their droplets are concentrated on the surface. If you touch the stuff and don’t wash your hands before touching your mouth, you get COVID. This is why the next part is so important.
  • Washing your hands can stop droplet-surface spread. The same rules apply as before. You touch a public surface that someone just shed a bunch of droplets on and then touch your face, you’re gonna have a problem. WASH YOUR HANDS.

What helps YOU is if everyone wears masks. It will be a bigger help if you stay away from people (six feet) and wash your hands thoroughly and often. Sound familiar? Same recommendations as we’ve always had because they work!

4. Don’t fight about masks, especially in person.

I 100% believe that the anti-mask crowd is fueled by misinformation fed by people that will profit or benefit from a “reopened economy.”

Whatever the reason for mask vs anti-mask, this division is going to cause tensions to be higher than they already are. 

You know what I’m saying… You put the effort in to do the right thing, and then there’s this “jerk” being belligerent. They’re either refusing to wear a mask, wearing a mask incorrectly, or making a big deal about you wearing a mask.

Are you gonna have to choke someone out at Dunkin Donuts?

The only thing you can control is your reaction. I say ignore these non-compliant people and let them do whatever they want. 

Yup, you’re right. It is an issue and it’s potentially putting us in danger. You can’t change them, and if anything, you’ll cause them to double down into their position.

Let’s not think about the troublemakers, but instead focus on the rest of us that are trying, worried, and just want to get through the day. For those people, just ignore the offenders. Walk quickly past them. Put distance between you and them (about 16’ as per the studies above).

Just don’t make a stand there. It’s going to amp everyone up and it’s frankly not worth it.

Also, if you see a business/employee not in compliance, wait until you get home and then make a formal complaint with the highest-ranking person you can. Note the date, time, description of the employee, and what the offense was. Don’t over-expose yourself having a heated conversation in a store while wearing a mask. Everyone’s stressed, including managers and workers at these businesses. Others may overhear, then get stressed more.

And a little message to all these “patriots” who are speaking of their “choice” to not wear a mask: You suck. Grow up. Stop gatekeeping freedom, manhood, and citizenship. I’m pretty sure you’re a “real” American if you live in America. 

I don’t want you to fight either. If you’re on your private property or walking down a private drive and away from others, don’t wear your mask. If you’re going into a private business and their policy is to require masks, either wear a mask or go elsewhere. If you’re going into a public building, the policy will be to wear a mask. Do it, or go home. It’s simple. It’s not about you. No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.

There’s a tremendous lack of empathy from a subset of the population. We overpower it by helping others. 

5. Be nice. We all need it.

The one thing I miss the most while I’m interacting with people in masks is the smiles. 

We’re stressed, anxious, and tense. I think we should make extra effort to say hello, wave, nod, and be kind to each other.

If you see someone with a mask, it’s safe to assume that they’re having a hard time. Be extra kind.

6. Accept, then accept some more

The hardest part in all of this is the uncertainty. Not only do we not see light at the end of the tunnel, but we don’t even know if we’re moving in the tunnel. Are we even in a tunnel? What day is it?

We want to get back to normal, where things were more certain. And here’s the truth and the final thought I’ll leave you with: we had no certainty then, either.

We had the illusion of certainty. We had a narrative of regularity that told the story that things were certain. In reality, it was just a story our brains made up to make us feel better. Now, here we are, with all this uncertainty up in our face, and we don’t know how to deal. Add onto it the idea of opening up and you’ve got a Double Stuff Uncertainty Oreo. I’ve been eating straight sleeves of Uncertainty Oreos to cope.

I’ve spoken in past COVID articles about acceptance, and I think it’s time to really let go and accept. In our house, we’ve accepted the fact that vacations aren’t happening until “vaccine plus 3 months” or “treatment that prevents hospitalization and ICU stay,” whichever comes first. This nebulous concept should be replaced with “not now” and we should fully accept that.

We have to accept this will go on and on and on and it will test every last bit of our resolve. Time to accept it and rewrite the narrative in our brain with this new existential truth. We can be certain, that for a while, it’s going to be a mess. 

This next phase will take a boatload of discipline. Guess what? Not many people have it (hence all the crazy fad diets and supplement trends). You’ll have to also be patient. 

I honestly believe that we’ll be OK if we follow the rules. All signs point to handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing to being a POWERFUL force against COVID.

If we have to go out, but we’re not emotionally ready, have faith that you can protect yourself with those often-repeated recommendations.

COVID is still a real, dangerous threat. If you’re not ready or don’t have to break quarantine, don’t. Masks work well to protect others and stop the spread, especially with distancing and handwashing. Don’t fight about masks, and instead be overly patient, kind, and friendly.

Finally, accept the fact that this is here for a while. Others are going to need to hear more positivity more often from the strongest among us. 

I get it, we’re SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO sick of being home. What we don’t need is what happened on Naples beach in Florida last week:

Just because we are supposedly on a downward trend, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be taking the same precautions. Just because your favorite restaurant is re-opening soon, doesn’t mean it’s a universal sign indicating that you can store your masks away with your winter clothes. 

Deep breath. Get ready for the next part of the long road ahead, but be confident you’ll be OK if you follow the rules.

Just trying to keep it real…

Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth

Dr. Neal Smoller, Holistic Pharmacist

About Neal Smoller

Dr. Neal Smoller, PharmD, is a licensed pharmacist: and owner of Village Apothecary, an independent pharmacy in the most famous small town in America—Woodstock, NY. He’s also the host of the popular wellness podcast, The Big Mouth Pharmacist.”


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