Tens of thousands of years of evolution have produced a remarkably hardy and resilient species—homo sapiens. And as difficult as the last two years have been and, for many, continue to be because of Covid-19, some people found some bright spots amid 24 months of nearly non-stop challenges, even during the first several months that were fraught with fear and uncertainty. In this article, we will explore the results of a study that shows how exceptionally resilient humans can be even amidst the enormous losses and challenges of the last two years.
Conducting the Survey
Launched in March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic in western Europe and the Americas by a team of researchers from Harvard and Stanford universities and the National Institutes of Health, the study sought to identify how the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted the lives of study participants. As reported by Geode Health, the study’s primary question that researchers sought to find answers to was “Although this is a challenging time, can you tell us about any positive effects or ‘silver linings’ you have experienced during this crisis?”
A total of 21 survey questions launched on three social media platforms assessed everything from race to age, gender to nationality, education to current location among the adult-aged participants, as well as feelings and attitudes to lives lived in the shadow of the pandemic. Completed in September 2020, over 4500 people participated, and ultimately about 3100 surveys responses were included in the analysis.
A few facts: The average age of the participants was 47.41 years, and a majority were women (71.5 percent) and white (59%). People from over 65 countries participated, most from the United States (82.8%), Guatemala with 2.8%, Canada at 2%, New Zealand with 1.7%, and the United Kingdom at 1.4%. Not included in the demographics is the education levels of participants.
The Silver Linings of Weathering the Pandemic
Through their surveys, researchers were able to identify nine “silver linings” that survey respondents felt resulted to them from enduring the pandemic.
1 – Greater amounts of quality time with loved ones
Forty-six percent of survey respondents cited this as the primary benefit they experienced from the pandemic. Comments submitted to verify this included notations on children helping more around the household, an increase in contact with family members who live far away, and couples spending more quality time together engaging in simple activities like going for more walks together.
2 – Life Slowed Down Considerably
Many respondents pointed out that with a slower pace in their lives, they were calmer and could accomplish different things without having to rush through them. Comments related to this silver lining include references to starting new, low-cost hobbies just for recreational purposes, getting closer to a god and becoming more spiritual, and taking time to reflect on self-care and a focus on health and wellness.
3 – A Better Sense of Community
An interesting observation to come out of the survey was that participants marveled at how people came together to help one another, and not necessarily at the local level. Many individuals who participated in the study were deeply touched and impressed with how communities stood together across the globe during the pandemic crisis.
Six additional themes stood out for many of the respondents. They included a greater sense of gratitude for what respondents had in their lives; how technology benefitted them; that working from home was a positive; a sense of improved health and health literacy; a belief that the pandemic and concomitant social justice movements would inspire greater social awareness and change; and the belief that pollution was diminished and air quality improved.
The authors of the survey state, “Reflecting on silver linings may help people better recognize the external protective factors in their lives – such as having strong relationships with family or friends – or their own internal protective factors – such as having dispositional mindfulness or practicing gratitude.”
They went on to say that the process of identifying benefits “may be helpful because it helps orient people to the presence of protective factors in their lives.” The researchers define the protective factors as, “skills, strengths, or resources that can help them deal more effectively with stressful events that serve as psychological buffers that protect individuals from the potential harms of adverse situations.”
A silver lining is something that has positively affected one’s life as a result of a stressful or traumatic event. The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly one of those types of events.
Surprisingly and hopefully, humans found ways to adapt and find those silver linings as the pandemic took hold. Though the mental health of millions of people was certainly dreadfully impacted by the pandemic, the lock downs, loved ones’ or their own illnesses, and through loss of beloved relatives, friends, even of the pleasure of the workplace, a survey like this demonstrates that even as we endure, humans tend to look inwards and turn to those people we value in our lives for support and sustenance. We can be open about our suffering and pain and find the support and help that we need.
As so many people continue to pick up the pieces from this worldwide traumatic event, regularly assessing our own and loved ones’ mental and emotional health is an essential element of moving ahead. Knowing that people are there to support us sustains us all through life’s large and small challenges.