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Searching for silver linings during a global pandemic

“After every storm, there is a rainbow. If you have eyes, you will find it. If you have wisdom, you will create it. If you have love for yourself and others, you won’t need it.” – Shannon L. Alder 

It is easy to focus on the negative. Our brains have developed to look out for the bad as a way to focus on and avoid potential threats.

Negative feelings and psychological distress are exacerbated during challenging times such as the COVID-19 pandemic. According to one survey of American adults, there was a more than threefold increase in the prevalence of depression symptoms during the pandemic. Furthermore, study findings revealed that during this pandemic, 29.6 per cent of people report stress, 31.9 per cent report anxiety and 33.7% per cent report depression.

This all makes sense. More than 2 million lives have been lost so far, our routines and lifestyles have been altered, jobs have been lost and we have been separated from loved ones, just to name a few of the accompanying challenges.

Although the past year has been filled with difficulties, I have tried to approach the situation with optimism and encouraged others to do the same. Research supports that taking an optimistic approach can lead to better health outcomes.

Some positive effects of the pandemic have been recorded. There has been a reduction in the rate of certain crimes and a decrease in traffic levels and air pollution. The pandemic has also encouraged some to embrace preventative practices, and as a result, lower levels of sexually transmitted infections are expected.

Personally, I rediscovered my passion for cycling. Studying and working from home meant that I was saving more than 10 hours a week on commuting. I took advantage of this and cycled more than 3,500 kilometres this past year. To my surprise, this is about the distance between Toronto and Las Vegas. Prior to that, I was only cycling 350 kilometres per year. And I know that I am not the only one – 2020 saw a biking boom, with bicycles quickly selling out.

I wanted to see what positive experiences others had. When asked, Elyssa Rizov, a second-year dental student at the New York University College of Dentistry, says, “Spending countless hours at home and in virtual classes prompted me to reach out more to friends. I also became more physically active through outdoor hiking and cycling. I discovered a beauty in nature I never knew before.”

The sentiment of having more time to be active and spending time outdoors is shared by many of us. This includes a fifth-year biochemistry and commerce student at the University of Toronto, Kiyan Massi. “The pandemic has given me the opportunity to explore more of my surrounding areas, given that international travel is not recommended. I also picked up a new hobby, poetry,” Kiyan says.

Kiyan is not alone in taking up a hobby. Baking, working out, writing, gardening and crafts seem to have become especially popular.

Christina Delia, a second year Human Biology major at U of T, says that, “Studying from home has taught me time-management with online courses and how to motivate myself to do well, despite the initial challenge to find sufficient motivation. It has also provided me the time to be more active. I used to commute two hours a day to get to class. I now use this time to work on myself and do things that I enjoy.”

Self-care is critical but far too often overlooked during our busy lives. It is fantastic that Christina, Elyssa and Kiyan committed time to activities that they enjoyed.

It is important to acknowledge that the past year has not been easy and everyone has been affected in different ways. Wherever possible, we can try to filter through the challenges to find the positive. If you believe in silver linings, then hope may be found in even the most difficult situations.

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Joanne E. Plahouras

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Joanne E. Plahouras is a research analyst and holds a Master of Science from the University of Toronto’s Institute of Medical Science.

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