Community Experiences During the Pandemic:

Part I

Albert & Jessie Danielsen Institute Research Team

Clinical research at the Danielsen Institute involves an integrative approach with the goal of enhancing our clinical services through an ongoing process of reflection, learning, and growth in dialogue within our community of practice. The stressful context of the COVID-19 pandemic led us to ask about its impact on the Danielsen Institute’s community of clients. As part of our most recent clinical assessment, we asked the community about mental health, well-being, and specifically the effects of the pandemic.

We received such rich responses to these questions that we’re organizing our summary in two parts. In Part I, we offer a summary of the responses to three questions about challenges, benefits, and new insights related to the pandemic so our community can learn from one another during these difficult times. In Part II, we’ll summarize some key findings related to mental health and well-being. 

 

What, if anything, has been most challenging about the pandemic?

♦ The most frequently reported challenge has been the absence of physical presence with others and feelings of social isolation. Many mentioned feeling deprived of human touch; gathering by video calls is important but ultimately lacks the sustenance and quality of being together in person.

Life’s rhythms and resources have been disrupted, including working remotely, losing access to resources vital for positive mental health (e.g., local gym), limited ability to travel because of heightened risk of virus exposure on public transportation, and canceled events or opportunities such as rescinded job offers or canceled internships.

♦ Some noted the increased effort to do almost anything – to work, to visit family, to shop, etc., while adjusting to these disruptions. For some this has led to increased fatigue, requiring new coping strategies.

Fear of becoming ill was a common concern, with many facing potentially significant complicating factors for themselves or family members if they contracted COVID-19. This fear seemed to amplify the disruptions named above. 

Negative impact to mental & physical health was a theme across responses, most notably, prompted by a sense of fear and/or difficulty sitting with uncertainty about the future with little clarity as to how long the pandemic will last. Overall, levels of anxiety have increased, requiring more intentional efforts at anxiety management.

♦ Additional challenges included employment or economic hardship, experiences of racial violence, frustration with the government’s response to the pandemic, and distress about others not adhering to the recommended safety guidelines.

 

What, if anything, has been most beneficial about the pandemic?

♦ For some, the prevailing benefit of the pandemic seemed to be a break from the busyness and demands of life. Some wrote about enjoying a slower pace resulting from fewer hassles such as long commutes or outside commitments that were otherwise difficult to forego. Time vacated by previous obligations has been filled with rest, opportunities to reflect on values or what is important, hobbies and previously neglected projects, or meaningful time at home with family, housemates, or pets.

♦ Some indicated that having more alone time was beneficial, especially when declining social requests without feeling the need to provide an explanation has been difficult. 

♦ Numerous people mentioned the benefits of learning new skills and committing to healthy practices, which included learning to use technology, engaging in cooking or gardening, practicing gratitude, mindfulness, or self-forgiveness, and many others.

♦ Additional benefits included financial improvement on account of reduced spending or the assistance of government stimulus funding, finding hope in humanity’s ability to come together for a greater cause, observing others’ generosity in times of need, and awareness of the environmental benefits of staying home. Notably, however, several indicated that there was nothing beneficial about the COVID-19 pandemic, which stood out as especially indicative of its impact.

 

What have you been learning about yourself during the pandemic?

♦ The number of community members that identified strengths in themselves was striking. Several indicated that they had been learning they were more resilient, determined, capable, patient, or adaptable than they previously knew.

♦ We found that many reported becoming more aware of their own needs: the need for a structured day or routine, more time alone or more time with others, down time or rest, and physical touch.

♦ The changes imposed by the pandemic have also invited some to recognize less desirable parts of themselves that were harder to identify or confront before the pandemic. People reported noticing consumeristic spending habits, desires for instant gratification, relying on work for identity formation, home-work imbalance, or difficulty setting interpersonal boundaries.

♦ Others wrote about clarifying and becoming more aware of values or priorities and recognizing what feels most important for health and well-being. Some even mentioned learning new strategies for effectively coping with adversity, such as focusing on what is controllable or limiting exposure to media.

The responses to these questions provide critical insight into the diverse and multi-faceted impact of the pandemic on daily life. We noticed that what materialized as difficult for some (e.g., social isolation) emerged as rewarding for others (e.g., a break from people), and many clients described dialectical experiences of challenge and benefit. The larger narrative suggests that the COVID-19 situation has ushered in novel and disruptive challenges while forcing some parts of life to slow down, subsequently opening the possibility for new opportunities and self-awareness about strengths or desired changes. We were especially struck by the quality of personal therapeutic work evident in the responses amidst the ongoing struggles and uncertainty for many.

 

Coping Strategies & Practices

Several people wrote about practices and strategies they have found helpful in adjusting to the pandemic and its effects. Below, we share some of the community’s wisdom in hopes that others might benefit from knowing about these practices, while recognizing the uniqueness of each person’s situation and needs.

Be Present

  • Develop rhythms that open and close your day to create flexible structure
  • Cultivate inner calm through grounding and centering practices such as meditation or prayer
  • Balance solitude and relational interactions (e.g., video chatting) in ways that work for you
  • Be mindful of habits and coping strategies that may run counter to your well-being

Be Intentional

  • Rescale your expectations for productivity, acknowledging the mental toll of multi-tasking and working from home
  • Be curious rather than self-critical about your thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the pandemic
  • Make space for a pastime or hobby that you can immerse yourself in and enjoy (e.g., art, music, dance, writing, baking, gardening)
  • Consider ways to contribute to and find solidarity with others, even while physically distant

Be Embodied

  • Engage in physical activity, movement, and/or exercise as you are able
  • Notice the experience of being in your body, hug family or friends you live with, or cuddle with your pet
  • Connect with nature by going outside, where possible, or watching nature-themed videos
  • Practice self-compassion toward and address your physical and emotional vulnerabilities

 

Part II of this clinical research summary will come out in the next few weeks and will provide further information from our Relational Spirituality Assessment about factors that can impact well-being and mental health during this pandemic.

 

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