Changes to Mental Life in the “Post-COVID World”
While I am not a part of any historical committee that makes these decisions or labels, I do believe we are in what we can call the “Post-COVID World”. The quotations I put around this label serve 2 purposes: to indicate this is a formally defined term that everyone agrees with, and to give awareness to the fact that COVID has not and will not be going away as a cause of disease and problems in the world. Still, even with these 2 accepted facts, life as we know it more resembles life before the COVID pandemic than during it. There is no doubt that overall, the “Post-COVID World” is strictly speaking better than life during the heights of the pandemic. I think an interesting area of thought to explore is looking into what COVID has changed regarding our mental health that will continue into the “Post-COVID World”. The crisis filled world we were living in is over, and with it has left most of the acute anxiety, the depression caused by inability to socialize, and the financial stressors due to work being lost/postponed. Yet, there are still some things that have followed us into this new world that I have seen some evidence as a counselor are still impacting our mental health in both positive and negative ways.
New Work-Life Balance
The phrase work-life balance has been gaining popularity my whole life. Skipping the 90s when I was too young, I remember in the early 2000s it being whispered of by my parents in terms of their goal for their later work years. Then in the 2010s it became a goal for all people entering the working world. Now, it is a solidified facet of self-care and good living. During COVID, work-life balance was a challenge for unique reasons. Work wasn’t available for some, for others work became purely from home and led to the “life” parts of work-life balance becoming part of the working hours. It became clear that our brains were struggling to figure out when we were doing work versus when we were doing life. Being at home all the time made them bleed together into a sometimes toxic mashup. Now in the “Post-COVID World”, work is available but many people still work from home at least a couple days a week. I have seen a positive mental health change in that many people are better at swapping their mindset from work mode to life mode, even when working from home.
This positive change comes mostly from necessity during the pandemic, but now I feel it has morphed into an expectation in many workplaces. If you are working from home, employers expect someone to be able to be fully engaged in work during the assigned hours. For the employees, having the new ability to transition their mindset without a commute has actually created more extra time in their lives that they often use effectively. During the pandemic I had many clients, and myself, struggling to find ways to teach our brains how to make this transition. Now, most people report that they have a system they created that allows them to get all the benefits of working from home without having trouble staying engaged with work or checking out mentally from work at the end of the workday.
Family Closeness, Through A Little Distance
During the pandemic, a major issue that was impacting couples and families was being stuck together all day, every day. It was tragic to hear stories of couples and families speaking about how much they loved one another but were on each others last nerves. Even parents would say it about their young children. They would question whether this made a negative statement about themselves or their children, and it would take time to help them accept that there is no one person on Earth who wants to be around another person on Earth constantly. Through these troubles and realizations came a new appreciation and effort toward staying close as a family while accepting that we must have individual time for ourselves.
After the pandemic, I have seen both a positive and negative change in people’s way of spending time with their family. In the negative light, some people have kept their individual time as ways to get more work done. Individual self-care time that is spent on work will not allow us to be better spouses, mothers, fathers, children, or friends to our loved ones. It will only deplete us more. The more positive outcome has been a growing and, in my opinion, awesome trend of what I have heard described as “self-play together”. Couples now often report that they will both be home, even in the same room, but be doing their own hobby. This creates a feeling of companionship while also allowing people to be in their own minds and not be overwhelmed by their loved ones. Children are naturally great at this, but it is a very positive sign to see adults getting more accustomed to it and having it enhance their relationships.
Increased Focus on Health
During COVID there was a mentally unhealthy amount of focus on health that we are just not built to deal with every day. Hearing stories of death daily, all the preexisting conditions that impacted people during the pandemic, people making all kinds of claims about health that were both founded and unfounded. It was a deluge of health focused thinking that was for many beyond obsessive. Now, in the “Post COVID-World” there is some left over increased focus on health in both negative and positive ways.
In the negative sense, some people are still struggling to parse what is accurate and inaccurate health information. This isn’t focused on COVID anymore, but general health info has become more of an interest for a lot of people. There is an all time high of confusion in terms of what is good health advice and where we should turn for it. Outside of the fact that health itself is not a perfectly understood area of study by experts, there are a ton of non-experts who have risen to prominence in the “Post COVID-World” that are very good at convincing people to follow their health advice.
The positive outcome is that people are taking a non-obsessive interest in their health more than before the pandemic. Not in a fearful way, but in a way of advocating for themselves with their medical providers to find their health. It is a good sign that people are taking good care of their physical health as the mind-body connection is so powerful that the interest in physical health almost always leads to an interest in improving mental health. More than ever, people are prioritizing being well and finding ways to maintain it.
If you are looking for help in adjusting to the “Post-COVID World”, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.