photo of a stack of multicolored covid19 masks

How COVID-19 Can Make Us Better People

Sometimes our biggest growth spurts come from our fiercest challenges. It could be a personal challenge or a professional one. Or, a global pandemic. But why? Tragedies, trials and pain push us to learn new information, refocus our attention, find new solutions and (hopefully) change for the better.

“Years ago, a wise friend told me that no one ever changes until the pain level gets high enough. That seems entirely true. The inciting incident for life change is almost always heartbreak—something becomes broken beyond repair, too heavy to carry; in the words of the recovery movement, unmanageable.” – Shauna Niequist from her book, Present Over Perfect.

The world has changed because of COVID-19. No matter where you live, your life has been affected by the pandemic COVID-19 has caused. This isn’t a deep dive into the symptoms or the latest statistics around this disease, but a look at a couple things COVID-19 can teach us about ourselves.

(But, if you’re looking for COVID-19 facts, please check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).)

We are not alone.

COVID-19 has reached almost every corner of the globe. Even if you haven’t personally experienced the virus, your social or professional life has. Your emotional and mental life has. All of us, together, have felt part of this pandemic. Even former First Lady, Michelle Obama. On a recent episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast, she spoke about her struggle with low-grade depression during the pandemic.

“I’m waking up in the middle of the night because I’m worrying about something or there’s a heaviness,” Obama said. “I try to make sure I get a workout in, although there have been periods throughout this quarantine, where I just have felt too low.”

It can be a strange comfort to know we are not alone; that others are suffering too. While we don’t wish suffering on anyone, we can unite over our shared experiences and give hope to one another. And, many people have done just that. Whether it’s playing music on a balcony for all your neighbors to hear, or putting a sign in your window to support frontline workers or just waving with friendly eyes as you pass someone on a walk outside.

We value our health more and we’ve redefined “healthy.”

As humans we seem to take our health for granted until we experience pain, sickness or loss. Whether it’s our personal story or someone close to us, nothing pushes us to value our good health like the loss of it. And, nothing will push us to redefine what “good health” is until we gain it back.

Perhaps it was a lofty goal of “run a marathon” or compete in a bodybuilding competition. Maybe it was an image-focused goal of having clearer skin or fitting into smaller pants. Either way, our definition of being in “healthy” has changed. Our standards aren’t as high or superfluous. Instead, now they’re grounded in goodness instead of appearance. Instead of focusing on an aesthetically-pleasing body, we are thankful for a body that functions well, breathes easily, and is able to walk outside close to others or inside without a mask.

As we continue to redefine what being “healthy” means, I hope it sparks a stronger fire for body positivity and acceptance.

We realize just how much we need people (and hugs).

A recent survey shows the amount of Americans who feel more depressed and anxious has tripled 2019 to 2020 (so far).

Even for the most introverted person, quarantining is difficult. It’s isolation. People need people and we all need each other. Before COVID-19, we leaned on social media mainly as a tool for superficial conversation. Now, we long for the days we could socialize, in-person, with warm hugs and banter. 

(Fun fact: hugs don’t just feel good, they do good. Studies show hugs can lower your stress, decrease your anxiety, and improve your self-esteem.)

People all over the world flipped to cyber connection when the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020. During the Q1 of 2020, Zoom achieved a 345% increase in new customers. Whether it’s a barbecue or a social-distanced walk outside or a happy hour over zoom, we have pushed past the quarantine to be with each other—even if it’s in the cyber world. Because when something so basic as in-person socializing isn’t possible, we find a way to be together and maybe give a virtual hug.

We judge each other too easily.  

It’s hard to admit, but we’re all guilty of judging people. Even our friends, our partners, and our family. It’s the not-so-glamorous part of human nature. Perhaps it’s someone’s appearance or how they spend their money, or how they parent—there are many ways to judge someone and be judged. But, we can control this.

Our choices about COVID-19 and how we react to it have become an easy target for judgment. Not social distancing enough? Conspiracy theorist. Social distancing too much? Mindless media follower. The stereotypes and polarization of people are on full display. Even for those of us who didn’t think we judged others, we now realize we have. The first step to any transformation is acknowledging what has happened. The second step is finding out how we can respond better. The famous poet, author, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, put it this way:

Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.

Up for an outdoor event with friends? Great. More comfortable on a FaceTime coffee date? Great. Both options are valid. There’s enough judgement in the world. Let’s take the pandemic as a lesson on how to accept and validate one another’s choices rather than judge them.

Where do we go from here?

There will be countless studies on how this pandemic has affected our physical, mental and emotional health. We’ll tell the generations to come about how difficult this time was and how we changed. Let this be a time where we change for the better.

What if we could say that we became kinder? We judged less? Accepted others more? We valued our basic abilities? Being healthy now means we can breathe, walk, socialize and go to an indoor building without thought? COVID-19 can make us healthier as individuals, as communities, and as a society.

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