In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at Rutgers University have released a study that provides a new perspective on how individuals chose to navigate the unprecedented challenges. This research, a refreshing departure from narratives of increased substance use, found that many people turned to healthy habits and hobbies to cope with pandemic-related stress.
The study, recently published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, refines our understanding of how the American public adapted their behaviors during the enforced stay-at-home orders, a period marked by pervasive global anxiety.
Interestingly, the researchers highlighted that those who reported more types of negative experiences spanning across work, home, and social domains also reported more positive types of pandemic experiences.
These included engaging in hobbies, increasing physical activity and exercise, improving diet and nutrition through cooking, and spending more time with family and friends (virtually).
The goal of the study was to examine the effects of emotional, physical, and economic stressors related to the pandemic on substance use frequency. The researchers analyzed data from the COVID-Dynamic project run by Caltech.
The COVID-Dynamic survey asked participants a series of questions encompassing a broad range of pandemic-related experiences, from physical and emotional health, employment, finances to family dynamics. It also inquired about their monthly substance use and the potential positive effects the pandemic had on their lives, such as a more vigorous exercise regimen or a better diet.
By investigating data from two waves of the COVID-Dynamic project, in July 2020 and January 2021, the researchers identified how substance use correlated with pandemic-related experiences.
For example, those individuals reporting social and emotional impacts were more likely to consume alcohol, while those who experienced economic hardship drank less.
Nicotine use, however, showed an increase among those reporting economic impacts, and a decrease among individuals reporting significant social impact. Additionally, a positive association was found between emotional hardship and cannabis use.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the research was the scarcity of substance use among the study participants. Denise Hien, Director of the Center of Alcohol and Substance Use Studies and a co-author of the study, noted, “Overall, the amount of substance use in this sample was relatively low.”
This research challenges the general assumption that the pandemic had a universally negative impact. “We often think in terms of collective trauma, but this sample upends the idea that the pandemic was universally impactful,” said study co-author Alexandria Bauer.
She added that the data reveal nuanced ways in which people experience these types of mass events, suggesting a normative population’s resilience.
Margaret Swarbrick, associate director of the Center of Alcohol and Substance Use Studies, noted: “While some data has shown that the use of drugs and alcohol increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that many also coped during its darkest days by doing healthy activities like cooking, reading and gardening.”
This underlines the fact that people demonstrated resilience by embracing healthier habits and hobbies to navigate the pandemic’s negative impacts.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial for overall well-being and longevity. Here are some healthy habits you might consider incorporating into your daily routine:
Consume a variety of foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Limit intake of processed foods, saturated and trans fats, and added sugars.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, coupled with muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week.
Drink at least 8 cups (2 liters) of water per day, although this can vary depending on individual needs.
Adults typically need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Regular, quality sleep is critical for mental and physical health.
Regularly engage in activities that reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation, reading, hobbies, or other activities you enjoy.
Schedule regular check-ups with your doctor to monitor your health and detect any potential problems early.
Pay attention to your mental health just as much as your physical health. Seek professional help if you are struggling with mental health issues.
If you drink, do so in moderation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.
Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke. If you currently smoke, seek help to quit.
Maintain a body weight that is healthy for your height and body type. This can typically be assessed using the Body Mass Index (BMI) or waist-to-hip ratio, but it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional.