Kitchener-Waterloo·Happiness Column

'Lockdown relief': Why some people are thriving during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been pretty rough on a lot of people. Yet for a small group of people, things have worked out pretty well and claim they are actually thriving. But they're being quiet about it.

Experts say 20 per cent of people say they are feeling better than they did before COVID-19, writes Moss

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

For many, the pandemic has been a mostly negative experience. The majority dealing with chronic stress and fatigue, tired of juggling the demands of family – and others who've had to deal directly with the suffering of loss and grief.

And yet, some people are flourishing during the pandemic. Experts say about 20 per cent of the population say they are feeling better than they did before COVID-19 struck.

Experts call this "lockdown relief" and for some, it's helping them to thrive during this time of extreme stress.

From my interviews and discussions with those who are flourishing during the pandemic, the theme seems be that life pre-COVID was wearing and during COVID they've found rest.

The people I interviewed were a mixture of people who've have had financial stress – some severe. Many who had to apply for CERB and there were some who had limited financial concerns.

Yet, no one I spoke to had been struggling with poverty before and during COVID – which makes it nearly impossible to flourish during times like these.

Others I spoke to worked in healthcare on the frontlines, some had been protected from that daily stress.

No one was inoculated from the general fears that the pandemic has brought with it and they all shared their deep empathy for people who've been impacted by the illness.

When the bad thing happens

Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, a therapist who's been in practice for over 15 years, shared in an article that about 20 per cent of her clients have actually seen their symptoms of anxiety alleviate during the pandemic.

This reflects studies that show roughly 80 per cent of Canadians have felt stress as a result of COVID and yet 20 per cent feel better than they did before.

For those who experienced anxiety pre-COVID and are seeing their symptoms improve, they may be wondering why.

Experts offer a few reasons. One theory is that a big part of anxiety is the anticipation of the unknown. With the outbreak, their brain has accepted that the bad thing happened, which for anxiety sufferers reduces that constant anticipation of worst-case scenarios.

Also, people who suffer from anxiety are more prone to disassociation, which can preserve mental health on some of the toughest days.

Basically, that means they separate from immediate situations to manage the stress and fear that situation is creating. It isn't always beneficial in "normal" life, but in COVID life it can help us to keep that specific stress at bay.

And, with others going through similar feelings of anxiety – that repeating phrase of "it's ok to not be ok", reduces guilt and the negative self-talk that comes with anxiety.

Letting go of FOMO

There is also a group of people who are just feeling what experts have labelled "lockdown relief". These are people who, pre-COVID, felt they had to constantly keep up appearances, demonstrate productivity, they had to be at every event, it was necessary for them to be seen, and found themselves feeling relieved that their internal need to perform was now moot.

Because they have been given permission to do what they want to do, they've discovered that this way of life was exhausting and unnecessary.

So many younger professionals who have been feeling happier during the pandemic say they have way less FOMO (fear of missing out), which is making it easier to focus on their own happiness and prioritizing their own interests.

Some families who lived an extremely busy and complex life before COVID found that the reduction in running around to various extra-curriculars was a major relief.

Less driving, more dinners together and family bonding have been the byproducts of a healthier, happier experience of life during the pandemic.

The province says physical displays of affection with extended family and close friends are acceptable during Phase 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic response plan which began mid-May. (Shutterstock / fizkes)

Healthier family life

In previous columns, we've talked about how the extra family time during lockdown has been stressful. Only a few weeks ago I shared that divorce rates had risen by 25 per cent in Canada.

For people who are thriving, COVID has changed their family life for the better.

In one interview with a younger professional, she shared that that it has completely changed her relationship with her partner.

They are spending more healthy, constructive time together that isn't weighed down with commuting times and travel because they are both working from home. She claimed it "saved her relationship."

I also spoke to a mother of three kids whose spouse travelled constantly for work while she handled the strains of competitive soccer schedules and other extracurriculars, homework, etc. on her own.

Despite the financial threat of losing their sole income, she shares, "It has been the most valuable experience for us as a family. All the expectations of their life before was removed, especially my husband being away all the time. I am just so grateful we've been able to get this time together."

My happiness paradox

The idea that the coronavirus pandemic might have some upsides that could help us live better lives is hard for some people to say these days.

There have been so many people that have been seriously negatively affected, so claiming how good you feel might seem tone deaf or insensitive. However, I think it's important to share these stories in a way that is sensitive and compassionate.

Know your audience to ensure if it makes sense to talk about how you're feeling. But, don't feel you have to lie about being happy. It may help others who are struggling to get out of their negative and depressed state.

Our memories are not simply filed away like exact films of our experiences. We add to our memories through filters of our past and present and it predicts how we'll deal with new events in the future.

To develop the ability to handle stress in the future, we need to reframe how we reacted to events in the past. This doesn't mean coming up with a make-believe story – it's important to validate how we felt and learn from it.

But it does help us to reflect on what was good that came out of the worst scenarios.

Despite how hard it may be to see in this exact moment, there is always some benefit to going through really challenging times. 

Sometimes it's just the simple fact that although this was hard, and even horrible, it proved that we're stronger and braver than we realized.

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