While life during a pandemic bears little resemblance to life on vacation, for many people, the rhythm of life has slowed down. If you’re still working, you may not be commuting. If you were already working from home, your weekends and evenings may feel more leisurely, with fewer errands and social commitments. If you don’t work, your days may also have fewer to-dos than they did before. And if you have kids who are home 24/7 because schools are closed? Talk about a lot of family togetherness … for better and for worse.
Regardless of the contrast between your pandemic before-and-after shots, this unexpected pause has prompted many to reassess how they spend their time. For some, it’s almost as if they’ve hit the reset button. What opportunities or changes has “pandemic time” presented that you might miss if you simply shift back to status quo post-pandemic? I asked some local dietitians for their thoughts about seeking silver linings in a dark time.
Shifting perspectives and priorities
“Many of my clients realized that it was actually their lifestyle that was getting in the way of their goals and now attribute a lot of their struggles to stress and a chaotic schedule,” said dietitian Ginger Hultin, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic and owner of Champagne Nutrition in Seattle. She has witnessed her clients discovering new ways to exercise, getting more sleep and experiencing lower levels of stress. “Everyone is excited to get back into a routine, but for many people, this ‘pause’ was a time for reflection that they’d never had before.”
Bellevue-based dietitian Brandi Olden, owner of Creating Peace With Food, said that since the pandemic began, people are less likely to use the term “busy” as an excuse to not prioritize meal preparation, family meals, joyful movement and creative endeavors. “I’m noticing more people turn toward one another for a source of comfort and reassurance. People are also using this time to refocus on some foundational life skills like cooking, meal prep and experiencing the outdoors through gardening and taking neighborhood strolls,” she said. “My neighborhood looks like one of the advertisement photos for a new community center, with families out for strolls and bike rides. Most people are also smiling. This is something that I will personally miss if things go back to status quo.”
A cooking renaissance
For many people, evening commutes — perhaps coupled with shuttling kids to extracurricular activities — meant cooking was on the bottom of the priority list. But spending more time at home has spurred people to jump into cooking and baking. Often they’re finding it’s both fun and fulfilling.
“They are meal planning with family, roommates or solo before they order online or shop carefully at a store,” said dietitian Judy Simon, owner of Mind Body Nutrition in Bellevue. “I am delighted to find so many folks cooking and really enjoying it.” As a bonus, they’re repurposing leftovers for lunches or freezer meals to avoid food waste.
Olden said concerns about food supply shortages have also inspired many people to explore different ways of sourcing food, including community-supported agriculture programs, planting gardens and eating more plant-based, nonperishable foods, such as beans, lentils and nuts. “It has also allowed many people to challenge preconceived notions that frozen and canned vegetables are somehow less worthy than fresh,” she said.
Hultin finds the movement around cooking at home encouraging. “I hope this is something that we all incorporate as part of ‘normal’ life,” she said. “Making bread at home, getting creative in the kitchen, using pantry staples and frozen foods — these can all be very positive for health and culture, too. Kids and teens are more active in the kitchen than ever and that’s so incredible. Let’s keep it going!”
Rethinking sickness and health
If you’ve ever gone to work despite being sick with something contagious, raise your hand. I know that I used to think I was virtuous by staying home only if I was actually coughing or sneezing. The pandemic has highlighted the fact that even asymptomatic carriers of a virus can spread illness to others, and Hultin thinks this will reframe how our culture views sick days.
“In the past, it was normal to go into work sick or limit the days or time you take off,” she said. “I hope that this experience raises awareness about taking that time you need when you’re sick to recover and to take serious steps not to spread illness to other people.” She also said the conversations about hand-washing and lifestyle factors that affect immunity — for example, that alcohol can lower immune function, while sleep and exercise can support it — can benefit us far beyond the pandemic.
Another shift that will hopefully linger is the rapid rise of telehealth as the reality of COVID-19 began to sink in. Some providers, including myself, already had all-virtual private practices, but many others, including Simon, went from seeing patients in her office to seeing them on her computer screen within a matter of days. “I found out that people actually like virtual health counseling and inviting me into their homes,” she said.
As a parent, Olden is glad that telehealth is more widely available. “Personally, I’m a single mom, and navigating working full time, a kid with special needs and home schooling on top of life and food stuff has left myself, and many of the families in similar situations, quite exhausted,” she said. “I’m practicing lots of grace, especially around the never-ending rotation of dirty dishes and feeling very grateful for our ability to get our medical needs cared for virtually. I’m also learning to put myself in timeout … it’s becoming my secret weapon.”