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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

5 lessons from a global pandemic

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

A man and woman wearing masks are doing an elbow bump

What do tragedies and hardships teach us? Do we come out stronger and more resilient, or are we more defeated and divided?

Historical events, both the tragedies (9/11) and the triumphs (the moonwalk), are “defining moments” that shape entire generations. I believe we are in the midst of such an event, the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike many historical events that may have a local or national impact, this pandemic is truly global. No person on the planet has escaped its impact, with possibly the greatest impact on today’s youngest generation.

As stated in Chapter 14 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, “defining moments have long-lasting effects, forming perceptions that influence ideals, mindsets, behaviors, beliefs, motivations, desires, and priorities of generational cohorts and future cohorts.” When we look back on the COVID-19 pandemic a decade from now, what will we remember? What are we learning? I suggest many lessons have emerged, here are...

5 Lessons from a Global Pandemic:

Human connections are essential

Early on in the pandemic, we were instructed to stay home and isolate from one another. No more hugs or handshakes with those outside our immediate family. Soon, we were wearing masks, which hid our smiles and made friendly conversation more difficult.

If we weren’t aware before, we now realize that human contact is essential to our well-being and we need to prioritize ways to stay connected. Read more about connecting with others here and here.

Mental health matters

Social isolation has especially impacted our mental health, which has also been affected by major upheavals in our way of life as well as ongoing worries about contracting a deadly virus.

The percentage of people experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety or depression increased more than four-fold during the pandemic (1). We can no longer ignore mental health issues and need to prioritize both treatment and prevention. Read more about mental health and COVID.

Public health requires personal action

Combating a pandemic requires attending to not only personal health but also implementing measures to protect public health. These include social distancing, wearing a mask, staying home when sick, washing hands, and getting a vaccine. When people individually take action, we are collectively safer and healthier. Read more here.

Misinformation and confusion require clarity

Misinformation about the pandemic and how to combat it are as rampant as the pandemic itself. The World Health Organization has even given this a name, the infodemic (2):

"At its extreme, death can be the tragic outcome of what the World Health Organization has termed the infodemic, an overabundance of information — some accurate, some not — that spreads alongside a disease outbreak. False information runs the gamut, from discrediting the threat of COVID-19 to conspiracy theories that vaccines could alter human DNA. Though they aren’t new, in our digital age infodemics spread like wildfire. They create a breeding ground for uncertainty. Uncertainty in turn fuels skepticism and distrust, which is the perfect environment for fear, anxiety, finger-pointing, stigma, violent aggression, and dismissal of proven public health measures — which can lead to loss of life."

To overcome confusion and misinformation, communication during a crisis requires clarity. Read more here, here, and here about overcoming misconceptions and communicating in a crisis.

Resilience is possible

Like many crises before, we can learn from our mistakes and adopt improved ways to stay safe and prevent future pandemics. We can retain policies that protect and suspend those that are unneeded.

We can maintain positive outcomes like flexible work-from-home options, efficient grocery delivery, improved virtual meetings, and more robust online learning, while making in-person experiences safer and less likely to be canceled. Read more about successfully adapting to change here, and here, and here.

I still believe that during these defining moments, even pandemics lasting years, we can draw on our collective potential to solve problems and come out wiser, stronger, more resilient, and better prepared for the defining moments of the future. President Roosevelt said it well…

“There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

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