10 Things We'll All Be Better at Post-Pandemic
It feels like we might finally be rounding a corner in the COVID-19 crisis. And once the pandemic has passed, the world will be forever altered.
There’s no sugarcoating it: The pandemic has taken an incalculable toll in terms of human lives, economic loss, and social disruption. But navigating this wildly challenging year has also equipped us with some new skills and healthy habits, along with greater resourcefulness and resilience.
“For those of us who don’t get sick or have a personal tragedy in the midst of this… there will be many silver linings,” says Darla DeMorrow, a home office expert and founder of Philadelphia-area HeartWork Organizing.
Society will recover from the coronavirus pandemic. When it does, it may reveal a better way forward in these key areas.
1. Public Health
In the aftermath of the pandemic, an improved system for dealing with future health emergencies may emerge.
“I’m definitely optimistic in the wake of this there will be a reckoning about public health,” says Dr. Richard Carpiano, medical sociologist and population health scientist at the University of California, Riverside, and former co-editor of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
“Public health has been underfunded in the United States for years,” he continues. “An interesting analogy is 9/11; it lit a fire under the U.S. government to get moving on things. We had hearings. We had a commission. Law enforcement got more modernized to deal with national security. We got better at handling terrorist threats.
“The coronavirus situation presents an important opportunity to educate the public on the value of a well-funded, well-supported public health system.”
Whether people actually maintain the stricter hygiene practices widely adopted during the pandemic — like hand-washing and mask-wearing — remains to be seen. “The unfortunate reality is many people tend to forget situations as soon as things return to normal,” says Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, founder of Nomadista Nutrition and author of the newly released Eat Your Vitamins.
But it’s likely that at least some of these healthy habits will stick, Davis adds: “Having said that, I do think the effects of this will cause us to be more aware of hygiene and personal preventative measure.”
3. Personal Finance
The dire economic impact of the coronavirus epidemic may be a financial wakeup call for a nation that MarketWatch declared is “horrendous at managing money.”
Many of us cut back on spending over the past year simply because the places where we usually spend money were closed, says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet and author of Smart Mom, Rich Mom.
“It’s teaching us there are benefits to scaling back,” Palmer adds. “It’s coming at this huge price — I don’t want to minimize that; people are really suffering right now — but the good that’s coming out of it is that it forces us to be more mindful about spending and saving.”
Just as the 2008-09 recession had a lasting impact on financial decisions for millennials, Palmer believes coronavirus lessons will stick, especially with younger people. “When you’re establishing spending habits against this backdrop of an economic crisis… you’re more sensitive going forward to the necessity of savings and having a backup plan.”
4. At-Home Fitness
The coronavirus isn’t keeping us from exercising — it’s simply changing the way many of us go about it. With local gyms and major fitness chains temporarily closing their doors, more people are turning to streaming services, apps, and equipment they can use to stay in shape at home.
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And not just in the United States. Purchases of home gym equipment have soared across Europe and Asia. One report from China says sales of dumbbells have increased 50 percent, with rowing machines and yoga mats up 100 percent, since the outbreak of the virus.
Sales spikes may be inspired by necessity, but users are discovering benefits that could shape future habits.
“I prefer doing online workouts at home versus paying $25 to go to a class. I’ll keep doing that because I realize I like it better,” says Palmer of NerdWallet. “Most importantly I can do it on my own schedule. If my baby is napping I can do it then. And my older kids can do it with me. Instead of being away from them for an hour, it’s something we can all do together.”
“Pivot” was pretty much the theme of 2020 as we figured out new ways to work, work out, shop, socialize, and stay connected to the outside world. In doing so, we honed our problem-solving skills and mental toughness — and those resources will stay with us long after the pandemic is over.
We mastered a bevy of videoconferencing apps, found new ways to stock up on healthy food, joined online group fitness classes, watched livestream concerts from the couch, and scheduled virtual happy hours.
And when we were ready to venture out, we found responsible ways to get together while maintaining social distancing — like street dining, car picnics, birthday parades, backyard movie nights, or simply strolling around the neighborhood with virtual walking buddies.
6. Home Cooking
Nationally, spending on food outside the home surpassed spending on food at home for the first time in 2010. That trend that has continued ever since, bringing with it a number of adverse impacts on public health.
“Unfortunately, food away from home (FAFH) often contains fewer fruits and vegetables and have more calories, fat and sodium than food prepared at home (FAH), and consuming FAFH is associated with obesity,” according to the USDA.
But the closures of restaurants have forced many Americans to make big changes in meal planning. Many for the better.
“I have clients that have set a goal to cook more meals at home and are loving it,” says Elizabeth Rutledge, RDN, a Seattle-area registered dietitian nutritionist. “They are prioritizing meal planning… and taking advantage of the time and energy that have been gained by not having to commute to get reacquainted with their kitchen and try new recipes.”
Families suddenly finding themselves gathering at the dinner table night after night will also benefit.
“As children are home, families can prioritize family meals, as they have been shown to be more nutritious, and children in families that regularly eat together are more likely to have higher fruit and vegetable intake and have a healthy weight,” says Jessica Kim RDN, also in Washington state.
7. Slowing Down
With bars and restaurants closed, events cancelled, and literally nowhere to be, we suddenly found ourselves with a surplus of free time. It’s no surprise that media consumption — including podcasts, TV shows, video games, livestreams, and frantic online searches for pandemic updates — increased as a result.
But we also sought out low-key, creative ways to entertain ourselves at home. That meant rediscovering the joys of analog pursuits like baking bread, doing puzzles, playing board games, reading books, or going for daily walks — hygge-inspired hobbies we’ll hopefully stick with post-pandemic.
8. Remote Working
With businesses across the country shifting to remote operations, off-site work became more pervasive and efficient — and the impact will likely be permanent.
“It is going to change everything about how we do meetings, how often sales executives fly and drive to see their clients,” says certified professional organizer and home-office expert Darla DeMorrow, author of the 2020 book The Upbeat, Organized Home Office.
DeMorrow says many workers prefer working remotely, and there’s a huge cost advantage for companies.
“There is no doubt smart companies will take advantage of the fact that they have a workforce that by necessity is learning how to operate outside of the office,” she says. “The tradeoff for them is they push real estate costs over to employees. Commercial real estate costs are just so out of scale for employers, they’re much higher than just providing someone with a laptop or broadband.”
9. Making Phone Calls
Talked — actually talked, like verbally — to grandma or a friend across the country you haven’t touched base with in years? You’re part of a wave.
Social distancing may have stunted public gatherings, but one side effect is that it’s got us talking again. Not just in videoconferences — though if you hadn’t heard of Zoom a year ago, you certainly have now — but in good, old-fashioned phone conversations.
“The phone call is back,” Tim Kreider of The New York Times declared — and data supports the claim. In April 2020, AT&T reported that consumer home voice calling minutes were up 28 percent compared to an average Thursday, and Wi-Fi calling minutes were up 73 percent.
Not to get too mushy here, but the collective experience of weathering a global pandemic together has given us all a crash course in practicing empathy.
While it was easy to get distracted and discouraged by internet trolls or headline-grabbing grocery-store meltdowns throughout the year, overall we made a concentrated effort to understand and support those around us.
We cheered for first responders, showed our gratitude for essential workers, supported local businesses, wore face masks to protect the most vulnerable among us, and checked in on friends and family to see how they were faring. Moving forward, we’ll have a better appreciation for our connections with others — and for everyone who helped us get through this weird year.
- Millennials after the Great Recession www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/beyond-bls/millennials-after-the-great-recession.htm?rel=%22nofollow%22
- Home workout enthusiasm boosts fitness equipment sales amid epidemic www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-03/09/c_138858426.htm
- America’s Eating Habits: Food Away From Home www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/90228/eib-196.pdf
- Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents? pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/127/6/e1565.short
- No Time for Family Meals? Parenting Practices Associated with Adolescent Fruit and Vegetable Intake When Family Meals Are Not an Option www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212267216313314
- 24 percent of employed people did some or all of their work at home in 2015 www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/24-percent-of-employed-people-did-some-or-all-of-their-work-at-home-in-2015.htm