Positives of COVID-19:There’s an incredible upside to this pandemic, but no one’s talking about it

It may not feel like it, but there is a silver lining to social isolation. Felicity Harley elaborates on this perhaps unpopular opinion, and explains how we can see iso-life as an opportunity – should we feel able to seize it. 

Before Zoom and IGTV workouts and Houseparty and over-the-fence-chats we were really busy. Like, too busy for chatter with our work mates, too busy for exercise, too busy to call our friends (WhatsApp, always) and too busy to cook our neighbour lasagna. Then, as quickly as JLo became hot again, we were gifted something that allowed us to do all of the above: time.

If I’m grateful for one thing this pandemic has granted us, it’s an appreciation of arguably the world’s most valuable commodity. Time.

Time to slow down, time to reconnect, time to notice the everyday things that bring joy (a clean house, anyone?), and most importantly, time to realise that nothing matters anymore except what actually does. Coronavirus has changed life as we know it, our future days will be different.

Many of us have not only lost jobs or had incomes slashed (not to mention eaten way too many snacks), but certainty and trust in our future has diminished. Now we’re starting on the long road to recovery – economically, culturally and mentally – we have the precious time to reevaluate, reset and create our new normal.

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A much-needed wellbeing check

As a society, we hate being bored and our (normal) culture of busyness – do more and do it all – and the value we place on it was the ultimate stress trap. “If only I had more time”, “I am so busy”, “I desperately need a break”. You know it. It’s like living life on the go was cool, superhuman even, and it was making us all overwhelmed, stressed and sick.

There’s a reason why in May 2019, the World Health Organisation officially labelled burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ – a disease. Interestingly, a study published in 2016, in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal, asked thousands of people whether they would prefer more money or more time. Although most choose money, choosing more time was associated with greater levels of happiness. Many of us are now living proof of that.

You see, during a string of recent phone calls with my friends every one of them said – I kid you not – I have more time, I feel happier.

A time to re-evaluate

“I have time to cook healthier food, to walk, meditate and go to bed early,” said Emma, who was recently made redundant. My mate Chloe, who has three kids and works in healthcare said, “I’ve been on the treadmill too long, and never before have I had time to re-evaluate what’s important. Do my children have to be doing swimming, a musical instrument, a winter sport, a summer sport and go to birthday parties every weekend? Do I have to be at the gym five days a week when I can do things at home that make me fitter and stronger? Probably not.”

Dana, who runs URSTRONG a global wellbeing program for kids texted me this: “I wake up with a sense of relief, “Yesss, I don’t have anywhere to be!” As an overachiever, this feels like the first time in my life my inner voice has quieted down. The pressure to succeed, achieve, do more, be more, acquire more…has lifted. Even little things like fixing up the house or having nicer clothes or having nice nails and perfectly shaped eyebrows… It’s like a break from self-improvement. A chance to just BE. I’ve always been someone who strives (for more, for excellence, for achievement) and I’m not striving – I’m just living.”

Thanks to this slower pace of life, many of us are more aware of our mental wellbeing than ever before.

We’re prioritising relationships, exercise and getting outdoors. We now have time to appreciate how critical being outside is to our health and wellbeing. When boffins from the University of Exeter Medical School quizzed 20,000 people about their activity in the previous week, they found a two-hour “dose” of nature each week significantly boosted wellbeing, even if they just sat and soaked up their surroundings. Don’t forget that…

So, what will your new normal look like?

So, how will you reboot your life? What will you lose? Keep? Do more of, or less? “At the same time as we focus on the immediate emergency, we should be thinking about the things we most value and that we want to preserve and nurture in the new post-emergency normal,” says Associate Professor Jonathan Liberman, University of Melbourne.

Hear this: Before we create our new normal, we need to deal with the grief, says psychologist Ali Hill, CEO of Pragmatic Thinking. “It could be the loss of a job or the exciting plans you had for 2020. Or, for example, my sister had a baby and my kids haven’t met their new cousin yet,” she says. “You need to recognise it, sit with it and call it for what it is. We need to talk about our fears, give them a voice.”

When something outside your control changes your life, it’s what you do with what you can control.

Love doing 80’s aerobics videos streaming online (minus the g-string leotard, of course)? Keep doing it. Hate grinding it out at the gym? Stop it. Love eating lunch on your door-step watching the birds? Keep it up. Hate eating lunch al-desko? Lose it. Love reading a quality novel before you go to bed. Why stop? Hate getting stuck in a social media hole? Give it up.

As Marie Forleo, American motivational everything (aka life coach, author, speaker) puts it: “The point here is to challenge your assumptions of what you have to do and get insanely, brutally honest about what you truly want to devote your life and time to. Because, like it or not, your clock is ticking. Time is not a renewable resource and the only person responsible for deciding how you invest it is you.” Amen to that.

Felicity Harley is whimn’s editor-at-large. Her book, Balance & Other B.S is out April 28, follow her on follow her on Instagram for more.

More essential coronavirus reading:

Read up on what the government lockdown means for you, understand why Aussie doctors are up arms, be aware of the ‘hidden symptom’ of COVID-19 carriers, prepare yourself for the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, get your sweat on at home with these free online workouts before reviving your over-washed hands with this DIY balm, and then console yourself with these unexpected joys.