What Wasn't Working for You?

Communicating about quality of life post-COVID.

Posted Aug 11, 2020

Think being stuck at home, thanks to COVID-19, is challenging? Wait until things get back to “normal.” In places returning to pre-COVID lives, some people have been learning tough lessons—namely what wasn’t working for them in lifestyles that seemed so desirable when under lockdown or self-quarantining.

Iceland, which started reopening in early May, is asking just how much it wants to go back to normalcy. The country’s Directorate of Health monitors the health and well-being of Icelanders monthly, working with Gallup to collect data from about 500 people, representing the population, ages 18 and older. Topics explored include physical health; mental health; happiness; loneliness; stress, and health behavior.

In a webinar on public health and positive psychology in times of COVID-19, Iceland’s director of public health, Dóra Guðrún Guðmundsdóttir, reported that improvements were detected during peak COVID in Iceland. This past March and April—during the height of COVID—more people in Iceland described their physical health, in general, as being “good” or “very good” than in the same months of 2017, 2018, and 2019. (On a related note, there were fewer cases of influenza given reduced exposure and better handwashing.)

When asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy one would describe themselves, there wasn’t much of a difference from year to year, but researchers noticed more differences when looking at the months. April yielded the highest mean of happiness in Iceland, going down again in May.

More people also reported “good” or “very good” mental health in March and April 2020 than in previous years. But interestingly, such reporting goes down in May, when the peak for COVID-19 in Iceland was over.

March and April data also showed a significant increase in the number of respondents experiencing less loneliness and stress, with respondents then reporting significantly higher rates of loneliness and stress in May—when life began getting “back to normal.”

Naturally, the biggest question researchers and people in Iceland are asking themselves is: What was it about our lives in March and April that made for less stress and loneliness despite a global pandemic? This “why” can only be speculated at this point.

Dr. Guðmundsdóttir shares, for example, that better sleep could be a reason people were faring better. The recommendation is for adults to sleep at least seven hours per night, and Iceland’s data shows April as having the highest prevalence of adults (80%) getting adequate sleep. In working from home, less time was being spent getting ready for work and commuting. This boost in sleep quantity subsequently decreased in May, when people were able to start going back to their physical workspaces. 

No matter where you are in the world, or what your circumstances around COVID-19, data like that out of Iceland invites you to begin the conversations with those in your household and/or workplace around what is and isn’t working for you when it comes to your health and well-being. Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs around ways to stay physically and mentally healthier, global pandemic or not.

Pause for a moment to consider your levels of loneliness and stress these last few months, and what has been working for you in managing these quality of life factors:

  • Were your stress levels lower in staying at home with your partner and/or family, and why would that be (e.g., being present-focused, more prosocial behavior)?
  • Did you get more sleep, and how can you continue to guarantee such?
  • What changes to your routine need to be permanent ones, and how can you and critical others in your life (e.g., your partner, your employer) make that happen for you?
  • In what ways was your life simplified while under lockdown (e.g., not having to shuttle your children from one activity to the next) and what of these modifications can be maintained?
  • Whom did you try to connect with (e.g., during a virtual happy hour) that you might otherwise have not engaged these past few months?
  • In what ways were you communicating more favorably with your partner or person of romantic/sexual interest?
  • What did you have an opportunity to savour? How often did you get to live in the moment versus worry about what needed to be done next?
  • With so many around the world dying or suffering, what did you find yourself appreciating in your life as never before?

As you answer these questions for yourself, consider what you could be doing to better support your partner and that person’s well-being needs, as well. Plan a time to sit down and share each other's thoughts. Strategize a couple of key changes that could be tested in creating a more balanced lifestyle—one that’s better and healthier for both of you, no matter where your community is at in containing COVID-19.