Learning From Change

Three years since the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic and nearly all of us have experienced significant shifts in our daily lives. Strict isolation guidelines that have since been relaxed resulted in major changes in routine. This included the loss of many activities we had previously taken for granted, such as hugging loved ones, attending celebrations, commuting to work, and taking part in group activities. Students experiencing virtual learning and employees working remotely spent significantly more hours online, and social norms of getting showered and dressed before heading into shared spaces were temporarily disregarded.

Initially, this presented a level of pleasurable novelty. The idea of going to class in pajamas used to be limited to special celebrations at school. And many families found that the forced reduction in outside activities allowed for more togetherness.

Not everyone felt positive about these changes, even in the beginning. But now that we are out of the acute phase of this unique experience, what are we learning about the lasting effects?

A review of recent research performed by various academic institutions reveals how our lives have shifted over this period. Humans are wired for connection and comforted by a familiar routine. Often, we feel a sense of dissatisfaction about change but have difficulty recognizing exactly what it is that we are missing.

Presently, there are still significant changes that are impacting our physical and mental health in concerning ways. Overall, levels of physical activity have remained lower than before COVID-19. Children and adults are spending more time on screens for recreational purposes, and people are engaging in fewer in-person group activities. Sleep quantity for some has increased, but sleep quality has gone down. There are more people suffering from anxiety and depression. Overall, people have remained more isolated than before the pandemic and are struggling to re-engage themselves with others. It is well documented that regular physical activity results in better sleep as well as overall physical and mental health.

Alterations in simple routines that are seemingly mindless have affected us in ways that we didn’t see coming. An example from recent research concerns the loss of commuting to work. Researchers explain that the time spent in travel allows for “liminal space” where we exist outside of a specific role. This allows time to shift from one headspace into the next. Loss of commute time has resulted in what has been termed “role blurring.” Without the existence of liminal space, stress, and burnout can occur. One woman reported sitting in her car for several minutes every day simply to re-enact this part of her lost routine. She didn’t know why she needed this until it was explained to her!

The good news is that many activities that were restricted are now available, and in instances where this isn’t the case, there are ways to adapt to meet our needs. Taking time to examine our lives insightfully and consider what we have lost is important. With insight, we can take steps to reclaim our lives and find what we didn’t know we lost. Read this related blog for practical tips and suggestions about ways to begin doing just that!