With social restrictions starting to ease and the government’s three-step plan announced, it seems we’re entering the next period of COVID-19 (coronavirus) life in Australia. And while there’s no denying the economic effects have been far reaching, the lockdown has also been an opportunity for some people to reflect and re-evaluate their life.
Certainly, many are experiencing very real and severe problems caused by the fallout of COVID-19, and it’s likely this will continue for some time. But there are people who have found positives amid the crisis. Dr Tim Sharp, an internationally renowned leader in the field of Positive Psychology and founder of The Happiness Institute believes that “without long hours commuting and more time at home, these people have seriously considered or reassessed their priorities. They’ve found calm in a slower life, happiness in reconnecting with family, and a general sense of being clearer about what’s really important.”
Even though it will be some months before life feels somewhat normal again, there’s a good chance Australians can come out of this knowing what they miss, and perhaps more importantly what they don’t miss, about their pre-COVID life.

1. More downtime

Before COVID-19, we were a nation that seemed to fill every available moment. Extra hours in the office were a given, with Australian workers doing an average of 4.6 hours unpaid overtime a week1. Many were juggling a job with family, school runs, and extracurricular activities to the tune of $3.8bn a year2. And we didn’t take enough time off according to the 146 million days’ worth of annual leave unused by the end of 20193. Downtime was something a lot of us were short on, and it can lead to increased feelings of stress and anxiety.

In Dr Sharp’s experience, this has been an issue for quite a while. “For many years now, researchers and clinicians have been concerned with the number of people reporting excessive work hours and accompanying stress. Psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression, have been on the rise for decades now and much (if not all) can be due to the perceived increasing pressures of life.”

It seems our collective pace of life had reached a point where ‘time out’ was a luxury instead of an essential. ”We know that happiness and good mental health tend to be associated with a better balanced life, one with achievement and accomplishment but also from adequate rest, good quality sleep and even engagement in social and recreational activities. To live a full life, we do need to be ‘on’, but we also need to ‘switch off’ at times to allow ourselves to recover and recuperate from the normal stressors of life.”

The stay-at-home orders have seen some of us manage to do just that, resulting in increased feelings of happiness and being more mentally rested.

2. Making the most of socialising

What goes around comes around, and there’s a chance FOMO (fear of missing out) makes a reappearance after JOMO (joy of missing out) took its place for a while. When life was busy, there was joy to be found in avoiding social situations because we didn’t have the energy. Now, after a couple of months with minimal human interaction, we’re more likely to be making the most of every planned catch up, night out, coffee and dinner date.

3. Spending more time as a family

Those with kids at home will have spent a lot more time together since restrictions came into place. For many families, it’s been a considerable strain juggling home schooling or caregiving and a job4. However, rocky adjustment periods have turned into new routines where families have learned to be around each other again, which can have a positive impact.

Dr Sharp agrees: “The most important contributor to health and wellbeing, to happiness and life satisfaction, is having good quality relationships with family (and friends). Spending time together as a family, therefore, has a massive influence over happiness. Of course, it’s important to be realistic and accept that there will be frustrations and irritations; but that’s life.” Many are reporting they are enjoying the simple things in life again; going for walks, cooking together and playing board games are among the silver linings5 to come out of isolation.

4. Work changes

People fortunate enough to have a job that can be performed from home are preparing for the office to be forever changed by COVID-19. Employees have had to adapt quickly, and the result seems to have been mostly positive. While some are undoubtedly missing their workmates, others are very happy at home. A snapshot poll of AMP staff revealed over 50% enjoy working from home.

For other people, this sizable bump in employment has presented a chance to consider alternative careers, a change of industries or even retraining for something completely different. Dr Sharp has found it interesting to see and hear how people have been missing work. “Many complain about work however the fact is, supported by research, that work is a very important contributor to our happiness and wellbeing. Work provides financially, obviously, but it also provides meaning and purpose, structure and stimulation, and even social interaction.”

5. Saving money

The COVID-19 pandemic took most of us by surprise. Not just the health dangers and sudden restrictions on our freedom, but also the job losses that quickly followed. It meant many of us weren’t financially prepared. Since then, spending is down 20% per person in Australia6 compared to pre-COVID levels, and one reason we’re tightening our belts is so we can create or top up an emergency savings fund. In a recent report7 - 35% of the 1,085 people surveyed said they plan to save money to prepare for a rainy day.

The new normal

Whether by circumstance or choice, it would appear that life after lockdown is not going to look the same as it previously did. And for many, that’s not going to be a bad thing. This enforced period of isolation has, says Dr Sharp, “provided a unique opportunity to connect or reconnect with partners and children and to find or re-find the love and affection that might have been lost in our busy and constantly distracted lives.”

Seeking professional help

If you are struggling to cope during the COVID-19 crisis, you can call:

Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service on 1800 512 348.

National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800respect.org.au

7Consumer Reactions to COVID-19 Wave 3 from Toluna, Harris Interactive and KuRunData

More COVID-19 insights

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