The coronavirus is here to stay. Here’s how we’re coming to terms with that.

Leah Ashe, left, and Xavier Ashe, right, pose with their children Emily Ashe, 10, front left, Xander, 10, front right, Leo Nunez, 15, center left, and Gito Nunez, 17, center right, at Marietta Square. Leah, Xavier and their children are vaccinated. (BRANDEN CAMP FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Leah Ashe, left, and Xavier Ashe, right, pose with their children Emily Ashe, 10, front left, Xander, 10, front right, Leo Nunez, 15, center left, and Gito Nunez, 17, center right, at Marietta Square. Leah, Xavier and their children are vaccinated. (BRANDEN CAMP FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

As the new year arrives with the same old worries, people are finding new ways to cope

As the omicron variant spreads quickly, Nilah Mazza of Woodstock recently sat down at the computer to come up with a 2022 mantra to help keep her anxiety in check in the new year.

The mother of four elementary-aged children reflected on those early, distressing days of the new virus taking hold in 2020, demanding changes to every aspect of life. Over time, she took the virus in stride, only to find herself in late November obsessively checking the latest news report on the new highly mutated variant.

Despite the difficulties, it seemed for a time that with lockdowns, masks and a vaccine, the world could beat it back. Losing that hope has been hard.

Heading into a third year of the pandemic, with yet another spike in cases and a new, more contagious variant arriving with the holidays, there seems to be no end in sight for the uncertainty and unpredictability. Adapting to the coronavirus has become a way of life.

Words to try and live by in 2022 came to Mazza:

“Have No Fear,” she tapped out on the computer.

“I am not going to say the fear is gone. I am not going to say I will live my life without caution,” said Mazza. “But I have to let some of that go. I want to be more present for my kids. I want my kids to have normalcy.”

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Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus are seen in a decorated truck in Marietta Square. (BRANDEN CAMP FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus are seen in a decorated truck in Marietta Square. (BRANDEN CAMP FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus are seen in a decorated truck in Marietta Square. (BRANDEN CAMP FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Dr. Lateefah Watford, a psychiatrist in the Behavioral Health Department at Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, said the pandemic has forced changes to every aspect of our life — from how and where we work to who cares for our children to how we worship or spend time with loved ones. Society has adapted with Zoom calls, working from home, gathering outside, wearing masks. All that change means people have become more flexible and can respond better going forward.

Watford and other experts agree, we can no longer expect life to return to pre-COVID normal.

“I think for me as a psychiatrist and a person, as a parent and wife, I have to step back and say this is where we are, and I can only say what’s going on right now. What’s normal before is never going to be normal again and that’s OK,” said Watford. “To accept that, and not think this time it’s going to be over and going away, it’s just not. And truly acknowledging that will help us move forward.”

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia

Case in point: Watford has planned a trip to the Dominican Republic early next year. She realizes the pandemic has created a checklist of required documents and has made traveling more complicated. Vaccinated, she is prepared to get tested before and after the trip. She’ll monitor her destination and airline for any special requirements.

“I’m planning the trip the best way I can,” she said of her lengthy preparations. “But it no longer throws me off.”

Experts say the same coping tips recommended during challenging times are still valid but maybe more important than ever during a pandemic. Watford said it’s important people take time to care for themselves to help reduce stress and avoid burnout. That means, she said, making a commitment every day to carve out something you enjoy doing – such as exercising, reading, cooking. Mindfulness can also be helpful. And many experts point to a practice of gratitude and focusing on what we have and what we can do, not what we don’t.

Keeping social connections are also important.

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Dr. Lateefah Watford, a psychiatrist in the Behavioral Health Department at Kaiser Permanente of Georgia,. Contributed

Credit: Kasier

Dr. Lateefah Watford, a psychiatrist in the Behavioral Health Department at Kaiser Permanente of Georgia,. Contributed

Credit: Kasier

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Dr. Lateefah Watford, a psychiatrist in the Behavioral Health Department at Kaiser Permanente of Georgia,. Contributed

Credit: Kasier

Credit: Kasier

Meanwhile, even as people try to move forward and accept the reality of the lasting pandemic, the toll of the past several months has been grueling, even traumatic. Loved ones have died. More than 26,000 people have died in Georgia alone. Many people who caught the virus are dealing with a constellation of long-haul symptoms. Many kids have returned to school but are still reeling from pandemic-induced isolation and academic gaps.

“I’m encouraging my patients to give themselves grace,” Watford said. “No one says let’s have a pandemic that will kill millions of people and destroy everything we thought as normal. To think you were not affected is ridiculous. Allow yourself to acknowledge how the pandemic has truly impacted you and allow yourself time to heal.”

Alyza Berman, an Atlanta psychotherapist, said while people still worry about COVID-19 affecting their physical health, “It seems like a majority of are more worried about their mental health; how they were affected by quarantine and being isolated. People have to live with this anxiety and uncertainty of the new year but what I hear from every client and every staff member is, ‘I hope we don’t shut down ever again.’”

Mazza said almost a year of online school was “traumatic” for her children. They are struggling to make up ground academically.

Her 9-year-old daughter, she said, had a love for her school before the pandemic and everything shut down. Now that she’s back in school, “the love has not yet come back. She’s still recovering.”

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Nilah Mazza and her four children in a recent photo. Contributed

Credit: courte

Nilah Mazza and her four children in a recent photo. Contributed

Credit: courte

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Nilah Mazza and her four children in a recent photo. Contributed

Credit: courte

Credit: courte

Mazza has moments of worry especially after the latest variant emerged. But if anything, she is more nonchalant about COVID-19. She and her children caught the coronavirus in April. They have not gotten vaccinated yet. “I am not saying not ever, just not now. I am watching this very closely,” she said.

Berman said many people have felt a profound sense of loss and have moved through the five stages of grief as they come to terms with the pandemic. “At first when the pandemic first hit we were in denial, and then anger, bargaining and depression to now, we have some level of acceptance,” she said.

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Xavier Ashe, left, looks at a decorated holiday tree with his daughter Emily Ashe, 10, at Marietta Square. (BRANDEN CAMP FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Xavier Ashe, left, looks at a decorated holiday tree with his daughter Emily Ashe, 10, at Marietta Square. (BRANDEN CAMP FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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Xavier Ashe, left, looks at a decorated holiday tree with his daughter Emily Ashe, 10, at Marietta Square. (BRANDEN CAMP FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

As a mother to four children, all of whom have chronic health conditions, Leah Ashe of Acworth said she feels like she and her family might have been better prepared than most for coping with the stress and worry of the pandemic.

Even before the first coronavirus cases emerged, Ashe said she and her husband were conscientious about keeping their children safe and already living with the daily worry of hospitalization and severe illness.

When the pandemic first hit, Ashe said the family turned to game nights and invested in bikes and electric scooters for the kids, and they enjoyed outside activities in the community. Ashe said priorities shifted, and the family spent less time cleaning, more time doing fun things together as a family.

Once she and her husband got vaccinated this past spring, they felt more comfortable going out, resuming date nights. They went on evening strolls and ordered take-out and set up a folding table for romantic picnics outside, including once by a lake in Acworth.

“The pandemic has definitely made me realize that it’s the relationships that are the most important thing,” she said. “And it’s really put things in perspective. I know it sounds very cheesy but it’s definitely very true.”