Reverse Culture Shock Is Real - And It❜s Happening Now!

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You don't know what you’ve got til it’s gone, and we’ve all been schooled on the simple pleasures we might have taken for granted. A picnic in the park. A day at the beach. A pit-stop at your favourite cafe. Toilet paper. While we will welcome back some of the little luxuries of our former lifestyle, others may be a bit harder to embrace.

We were blindsided by the knock-on effects of the Corona-crisis: isolated from our extended circles, with our kids at home 24/7 and almost everything shut. No place to go, nothing to do. While the initial shock of retreating from our busy lives might have induced panic, resistance and boredom, we became accustomed to our 'new normal' and even reaped some of its unexpected rewards. 

But don’t get too comfy in your bubble! The PM has confirmed a successful flattening of the curve and a gradual easing of the social distancing restrictions that we have sustained for the last two months. Reason to celebrate right? Our children are starting to return to school and we can go back to work. Plus, we will be allowed to see people! Gulp...

So, What Is Reverse Culture Shock?

A new challenge awaits. As restrictions are lifted and a return to ‘normal’ is on the horizon, we might struggle to acclimatise back to the life that once was and even feel a sense of anxiety at the thought of it. That’s it - reverse culture shock, or re-entry syndrome.

We've heard of the culture shock we experience in a dramatically different environment, but the little known reverse culture shock is the confronting transition back to the former reality we knew. Inevitably, we have all been affected by the pandemic and the subsequent changes in our day-to-day lives, and that can have a profound and far-reaching impact. You might have experienced a shift in values and perspective, noticed things you hadn’t noticed before and adjusted to a new way of being that you’re not ready to let go of.

When The Glass Is Half Full

It has no doubt been tough, but many families (especially the kids!) have enjoyed having more time together, without the pressures of daily routines, Saturday sports and endless birthday parties. Bike riding and board games are back on-trend. We’re cooking more and spending less. We’ve caught up on rest and old movies. Working-from-home is the norm and introversion is cool. Do we really want to surrender all that? A return to ‘reality’ can feel overwhelming, with its incessant choices, obligations and human contact. Not to mention the traffic!

Reverse Culture Shock

What Does The Expert Say?

Reverse culture shock is often experienced when people return ‘home’ from a long stint living overseas and it has been documented as being particularly difficult for returning Antarctic expeditioners.

Talking to the ABC, clinical psychologist Dr Kimberley Norris, an authority on Antarctic confinement and reintegration at the University of Tasmania, said: “It's similar to the 'I need a holiday after my holiday' joke but dialled up to 100”.

Dr Norris shared that it can take up to a year for expeditioners to fully reintegrate back into life in Australia, and predicts the outcome of COVID-19 will be much the same, though our individual experiences will be unique. "We might expect that everyone is on the same page as us. That isn't true anymore. Because we've been managing COVID in isolation from one another it means our frame of references, our experiences, are slightly different.”

The Big Picture

"The world itself has changed” she added “We as individuals have changed. We need to be aware we cannot just flop back into how it was before COVID."

Of course, isolation hasn’t been without its challenges, but it has helped some of us reevaluate the way we lived our pre-COVID lives, shown us how adaptable we are and perhaps made us rethink what really matters. We might be happy to cut loose from the extreme confines of lockdown, but we might not want to be who we were before. It has been a life-changing experience, so maybe our own personal, perfect way of being is somewhere in between.


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