There is no denying that the past 9 months have felt somewhat like a roller coaster. We have been twisting and turning our way through racial tension, social divide, and a global pandemic. The emergence of COVID-19 has caused us to change the way we live our lives each day; some of these changes temporary, and some of them permanent. However, it may be short sighted to generalize 2020 as being a total disaster. Today we are going to explore some of the changes that we have had to make because of the pandemic and what we have learned through our shared experience.
Our reliance on technology and the internet has been steadily growing over the past 30 years. Because of the pandemic, this reliance has turned into a dependence. This is due to the fact that many people were forced to work from home, medical appointments had to be moved to telehealth sessions, and children switched to online education. In May 2020, shortly after we were forced to go under lockdown, internet providers saw a surge in internet use from 40% to 100%. With more people working from home, children who do return to in-person learning may now have the benefit of coming home to a parent instead of staying at latchkey or returning to an empty home.
With lockdowns, social distancing, and travel restrictions, our ability to vacation and travel for business was significantly restricted. While that may be frustrating for some, the reduction in travel has produced some benefits, particularly on our environment. Decreasing personal and leisurely travel has had a positive impact on our environment by reducing emissions and congestion. It has also aided in the reduction in gas prices.
You may have heard that we are on the brink of a mental health crisis. That is because many people have experienced an increase in mental health issues as a result of the pandemic. In a survey conducted in 2020 that included 1,000 American adults aged 18 and over, 55% of the participants reported experiencing mental health issues due to the pandemic, including 74% of people 18-34 years old; common mental health concerns include stress, anxiety, loneliness, isolation, and depression.
What We’ve Learned
We can say with confidence that we are resilient creatures. Our ability to change our daily activities and adapt to the restrictions a pandemic brings is a testament to our resilience, both as individuals and as a society. We are all in this together, united by a common experience. Despite our living during one of the most politically divided times in history, we still managed to put differences aside and come together as a community. It may be safe to say that we have more in common than we have differences. Over the past 9 months, we have seen people unite to help their fellow humans. For example, in Detroit, a community developed a relief garden to grow fruits and vegetables for people in need.
There are personal and environmental benefits to hitting the pause button and slowing down. A reduction in travel and an increase in biking, walking, kayaking, and other environmentally friendly activities have had a positive impact on the earth and on our physical and mental health. We have been forced to spend more time with our families and reflect on what truly matters. It is easy to get swept up in the day-to-day demands and overlook things, people, and experiences that really matter to us.
Our health is one of the biggest assets we possess. The pandemic has forced us to evaluate our physical and mental health in a way that we haven’t had to before. The coronavirus has helped us to change our daily activities in ways that improve our overall health and reduce our vulnerability to contracting illness. Referencing the same survey mentioned above, since the pandemic began, almost 62% of participants report making significant lifestyle changes that include improved sleeping habits, an increase in physical activity and exercise, spending more time in nature, and better eating habits.
2020 was a very trying and difficult time for most of us. Looking back on the past 9 months offers us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves as individuals and as a society. We have been able to take tragedy and grow from our experiences. Forced restrictions have led to an improvement in our environment and highlighted our ability to adapt to change. We have had the time necessary to reevaluate our values and prioritize things like our health and our families. Yes, 2020 was challenging, and we were able to make it through; we are coming out even stronger now than we were before the pandemic.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.