The pandemic obviously has not been good for our health. More than 600,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States alone. Some of us have responded to the stress and restrictions of the pandemic with anxiety and questionable health choices, drinking more and gaining weight. Some of us have also skipped regular medical check ups and vaccinations, missed mammograms, or quit exercising.
Yet, from a health point of view, there is a silver lining. In at least five ways, the pandemic has made us more aware of our health and wellbeing.
As life returns to normal, we have an opportunity to make actual changes in our lives based on the increasing awareness.
One of the biggest reasons contagious diseases became less of a health concern over the past century is plain old hygiene. Doctors and ordinary people alike began washing hands more, homes are cleaner, and people are more careful about food safety. Life is just a lot cleaner now than it was a century ago.
During the pandemic, a lot more hand washing and surface disinfecting has been going on. Masks and social distancing have resulted in less sharing of viruses and germs in general, not just COVID-19. Life is, once again, getting a lot cleaner.
For years, we’ve accepted the idea that spending long hours at work and putting our employer’s needs above our own is a good thing. As more of us worked remotely during the pandemic, people have been questioning this idea.
One study found that people slept more during the pandemic. True, many studies have found that we worked more hours as remote workers than we did in offices. However, as we head back to our workplaces, there are a lot more discussions about flexible work hours and work/life balance.
It’s a great time to set boundaries for work. Maybe you’ll keep baking even after you start back to work, or share meals with your family more often. Have fewer lunches at your desk and put in less overtime.
3. Mental health
“It’s all in your head” used to be something we heard people say to diminish the importance of mental health compared with physical health. During the pandemic, more of us became aware that mental health and physical health work together, and both are equally important.
Many organizations and individuals focused on spreading the word about mental health resources during this time. Employers have also stepped up to make sure workers have the support they need. People turned to Telehealth care and mental health support apps, as well as talking with their primary care physicians about their mental health concerns at a higher rate than usual.
This is a trend we hope will continue.
4. Home health
More people are using technology to take charge of their healthcare at home. Wearable health trackers, health management apps, Televisit appointments, online health portals, and virtual support groups all spiked in popularity during the pandemic.
Sales of workout clothes increased significantly. Of course, some people wore those sweatpants to work or to lounge around, but sales of home fitness gear doubled. More of us are eating at home, and at least 22% say they’re eating healthier now.
Together with urgent care visits (which saw an 18% increase), these signs of personal commitment add up to a real effort to support our immune systems and increase wellness. At the same time, it’s important to get back to regular visits with primary care physicians who can provide continuity of care. Surveys show that the relationship with physicians is a top priority for most of us.
New data on happiness is bringing some surprises: people are generally just as happy — and sometimes a little happier — as they were before the pandemic. But the reasons for that happiness have changed.
People are happy about having good health, something that encourages the positive health changes we’re seeing. More than half of respondents gave their health and physical well-being as the biggest source of happiness.
They’re also happy about having more time with family and having closer relationships with their partners and their children. A meaningful life was also high on the list.
Increased appreciation for these blessings could keep us happier — and healthier — in the future.