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How COVID-19 may shape our future

Six months after the outbreak, we’ve learned what changes may be here to stay and how to cope with them.

August marks six months since the novel coronavirus disrupted our lives. We may be far enough removed from the initial toilet paper shortage and panic-shopping phases to see them as “the past,” but some new habits and routines―like mask-wearing and social distancing―will likely stay with us, shaping our actions and mindsets for years to come.

While each of us is experiencing the pandemic differently way depending on our circumstances, many people are concerned about the way work and personal lives are impacted as we continue to move through the phases of the “new normal.”

Increased feelings of worry and loneliness are not uncommon during times of change, said Dean Aslinia, Ph.D., Associate Dean for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at University of Phoenix. However, he said we can develop proactive solutions and new habits that can yield positive results.

“This time of uncertainty and change also allows us to grow in new ways that can have lasting benefits to support our mental health,” Dr. Aslinia said.

Work may never be the same… but that’s okay

Across the country, many employers have extended work-from-home options. Working from home can introduce new stressors, including managing children during work hours, a crossover between personal and professional life and a reliance on virtual communication.

To assert control in your profession during this time, Dr. Aslinia advised exploring options related to upskilling. Health professionals have long touted the cognitive benefits of lifelong learning and the importance of being mentally active during times of stress, both of which are advantageous for overall wellbeing.

“By taking advantage of upskilling opportunities, we are benefiting ourselves in two aspects of our lives that have become indelibly overlapped as a result of the pandemic—personal and professional,” Dr. Aslinia said.

Dr. Aslinia said acknowledgment alone of this shared burden by everyone in the work from home space right now can help reduce anxieties. This perspective has potential for long-term change, improving work-life balance and overall wellbeing.

Communication is no longer a commodity

We’ve gained a greater appreciation for the quality of communication with others in both our work and personal lives. We’ve been forced for months to communicate virtually, and while we may be engaging with others, that doesn’t mean we feel connected to them.

Dr. Aslinia said it is important to recognize that seeing people on a screen or texting with them may not be enough to fulfill emotional needs in a relationship.

“Feelings of isolation and feelings of loneliness are not necessarily the same thing,” Dr. Aslinia said. “We can be communicating frequently with others and still feel a lack of connection and dissatisfaction.”

One way to combat this is to purposefully focus on quality interactions. Begin conversations with co-workers by asking how they are doing. Let them know you care about them beyond learning the information you need for the next day’s meeting.

It’s also important to recognize the tone of your conversation. It is easy in times of uncertainty and turmoil to slide into negative exchanges. Make it a goal to discuss something positive at the beginning of each conversation.

A new outlook on consumerism and finances

We’ve endured increased unemployment rates and a steep economic downturn, causing anxiety about personal finances. But this also has many people embracing a new attitude of frugality.

One tried-and-true method of stress prevention is to plan for financial responsibilities that are in your control. This will allow you to feel successful in an otherwise volatile situation.

One example is setting a budget for your weekly grocery bill. Plan out your menus, price the items and track your spending. Celebrate when you meet your goal and share your savings strategies with others. You’ll be addressing three stressors—providing healthy meals to meet your family’s needs, asserting control overspending, and offering helpful and quality communication to friends and family.

Multiple modes of access to mental health resources

At the onset of the pandemic, research showed that four in 10 Americans reported feelings of loneliness. Others indicated worries about finances, employment and their health. The pandemic has opened up dialogue, normalizing the conversation about mental health that may have a positive impact for years to come.

“Because of the unprecedented and global nature of the pandemic, more people are comfortable hearing about the struggles of others, sharing their own and reaching out for help,” Dr. Aslinia said.

A new network of telehealth providers is improving access to mental health, offering help from the comfort and safety of home. While the traditional office visit will likely return as a standard once it’s safe to do so, telehealth visits will likely continue after the pandemic, providing new levels of access to information and resources for mental health.

Acknowledging the long-lasting impacts of the “new normal” is a way to recognize the changes that have made us stronger emotionally and mentally. We will continue to adjust in our work and personal lives as the pandemic unfolds over time.

By giving time to highlighting what we have learned, we can approach what comes next with a positive outlook to build on to support our growth and overall wellbeing.

Editor’s note: As a higher learning institution, University of Phoenix recognizes that there are a diversity of viewpoints and opinions in the marketplace of ideas. This blog series provides a forum for discussion that represents that diversity of thoughts and ideas and does not necessarily represent the position of University of Phoenix, but rather advances openness and discussion of sometimes controversial topics.