As months pass of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, researchers say the upheaval and loss of typical routines has mixed results for Americans. For many, it’s a source of anxiety, depression, and frustration, but others have found ways to enjoy this new normal.
Raven Weaver, Washington State University assistant professor of human development based in Pullman, and a team of ten faculty in prevention science are studying how a representative sample of people of different ages, sex, race, genders, living arrangements, and socioeconomic status are coping with these restrictions. The American Journal of Health Behaviors recently published their article about health behaviors at the onset of the pandemic.
“One thing we’re seeing is that older people tend to be more resilient and able to see the bigger picture of what is happening right now,” Weaver says. “This unique situation has allowed us to get in touch with ourselves and recall previous hobbies or find new ones that bring us joy, to make the best of a rough situation.”
Weaver and Cory Bolkan, associate professor of human development at WSU Vancouver, are codirectors of WSU’s GATHER Lab (Generating Aging and Translational Health Equity Research). With the pandemic lingering on, Bolkan says it’s critical to find healthy ways to cope.
“We are a society that really wants to have an answer,” Bolkan says. “But in this pandemic, we have to recognize that we’re not going to have all the solutions and to find a way to cope with that.”
Weaver says the first step to coping is understanding that we have a right to be uncomfortable about how much our world has changed.
“We have to steer clear of the comparative loss game. Allow yourself to acknowledge that you’ve had a loss, whatever it is,” Weaver says.
The next step is acknowledging our mental, physical, and emotional needs and making a plan to address them, Bolkan says.
“We have to have physical distance, but not social distance,” Bolkan says. “If you’re Zoom fatigued, get creative in other ways. Maybe write a letter or give someone an old-fashioned phone call.”
Bolkan recommends structured, intentional planning not only for daily tasks, but also for social interaction. Journaling and reflection are also helpful ways to deal with our concerns, and Weaver recommends making a list of five things you’re grateful for every day.
“Focusing on your own gratitude, even when we’re feeling defeated, is helpful,” Bolkan adds.
Chris Connolly, director of WSU’s Exercise Physiology and Performance Lab, says physical activity is an underutilized strategy to boost one’s mood.
“Physical activity and movement are a natural preventive strategy for a lot of health issues, mentally and physically,” Connolly says. “We’re routine oriented people, so this might be the best time ever to establish new health and wellness goals, behaviors, and habits.”
Physical activity takes many forms beyond gym class and weightlifting. It’s also dancing, walking, hiking, roller blading, even playing motion-sensing video games where you can bowl or play golf.
“There’s this perception that exercise is going to the gym. It hurts, it’s hard, you sweat a lot, get through it and you’re done,” Connolly says. “But physical activity is any movement above rest. The best exercise is what you’re going to want to do every day or at least five days a week for the rest of your life.”
Since March, activities like the Kindness Rocks Project, where people paint rocks and hide them throughout their community for others to find, and the augmented reality video game Pokémon Go have gained popularity. Simple and fun for all ages, these activities get people moving and interacting with others while still following social distancing requirements.
“In a society that is individualistic and not collectivist, it is a big learning curve for understanding why we’re doing things if it doesn’t immediately affect us,” Weaver said. “But we all have a stake in it.”