The COVID-19 pandemic has strongly impacted our lifestyles, in personal and social manners as well as at work. Human behaviour has undergone a transformation, and new ways of maintaining solidarity, taking care of one's health, accessing health care, developing our professional activity and even socialising and connecting with others have emerged. After the acute phase of the pandemic, the widespread use of telemedicine, a new way of supporting and engaging with employees, and an increased risk of mental health problems are part of the new post-pandemic reality.
The global spread of COVID-19, together with the rapid deployment of containment measures put in place by different countries, have impacted the lives of millions of people. This has given rise to new priorities. For example, the importance of including preventive measures in our day-to-day life has been reshaped, which has led us to feel a greater need to take care of and protect ourselves against diseases. We have also noted the importance of accessing accurate and reliable medical information and advice, maintaining and cultivating personal relationships and of course, taking care of our emotional health.
As indicated by Peter Mills and Inge Schrever, doctors responsible for the Cigna Europe medical team, "All these challenges that we have faced in recent weeks will inevitably mark the new reality created by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are different people than we were before suffering the impact of the virus in our lives. Therefore, we will now have to adapt to these changes, adopt them as part of our day-to-day and continue to move forward as we learn to manage uncertainty”.
Some of these changes directly affect health care and well-being, and the way we relate to our environment from a social or work point of view. Cigna experts highlight five aspects that are part of the new post-COVID-19 reality:
- Telemedicine on the rise as a way to access healthcare. Digitalisation in healthcare has reached European households due to the need to alleviate health care workload during the COVID-19 crisis. During the confinement, the use of telemedicine services has multiplied by fifteen1, and it seems it will continue to increase. Every day more people use telemedicine as a way to access care, which also reinforces the patient's self-care. Of course, in order for this to happen, it’s important to facilitate access to 4G technology and ensure that all these solutions comply with GDPR regulations.
- Talent management within companies with a special focus on emotional support. The business reality has also changed. There are new market opportunities, new customer needs and also new work dynamics, driven mainly by teleworking. To cope with this, organisations must rely on committed and motivated employees, as they will be the engine of growth in this changing scenario. For this reason, HR strategies focused on the health care and well-being of employees and with a special focus on emotional support are, now more than ever, a great asset in achieving a competitive advantage, attracting and preserving talent, and nurturing a solid corporate culture.
- More restricted social relationships to prevent contagion. As a recent preliminary study2 highlights, restrictions related to physical contact, together with the fear of contagion, could reduce socialisation to only those closest to us, in order to minimise any type of risk. In the long term, this could have a negative impact on health, by provoking the emergence of feelings related to loneliness.
- Disinformation as the main impediment a healthy life. One of the side effects of digitalisation in the health field is the proliferation of alarmist messages and false stories, especially through social networks and instant messaging applications. The constant flow of distorted data on the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed this. Now more than ever, people are aware that they must take greater care of their health and that to do so, they must seek information from trusted and reliable sources. This has been highlighted by the European Commission3 since the beginning of the crisis.
- Increased risk of suffering from mental health problems. The COVID-19 crisis, due to its geographical dimension, is a traumatic event on a global scale. Eventually, the mood disorders and anxiety episodes that emerged during the acute phase of the pandemic could lead to other more serious problems such as post-traumatic stress, depression, violent behaviour, or addictions. In fact, according to the WHO4 calculations, mental health disorders could multiply by two. Therefore, the objective during this stage of the transition will be to prevent such disorders through a series of guidelines to adapt to the new reality.
How to prevent the onset of psychological problems during the transition period after the pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the world into uncertainty. Accustomed to leading a planned and controlled life, the new reality brought by the confinement is causing a large part of the population to face the future transition that awaits with worry, fear, irritability, insomnia or even anxiety. Adapting to this uncertainty will be the only way to reduce the psychological effects, helping to avoid the onset of more serious mental health problems.
As doctors Schrever and Mills highlight, “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought great changes in a short period of time, so regaining control of our own lives will involve internalising and adapting our habits to the new landscape and its new principles: digitisation is a basic pillar, physical health and emotional balance can act as an engine for collective change or cooperation to overcome challenges that affect society as a whole”.
In order to facilitate this transition, Cigna experts present five recommendations:
- Promote a flexible organisation. In order to increase the feeling of control and to decrease the level of uncertainty, while returning to a new normal, it’s critical to establish personal goals for the short and medium-term. This planning, of course, must be adapted to the various circumstances and be flexible in order to avoid causing frustration.
- Going back to work, a new life project. For people returning to their workplaces, the psychological challenges of the health crisis are joined by the challenges of reincorporation: resuming the pace of work, re-managing old and new tasks, new protocols, and reintegration with colleagues, In order to overcome this, it’s key to understand the reincorporation process as a new life project. This will help increase motivation levels and improve concentration.
- Work on social relationships. Social distancing could increase feelings of loneliness and produce long-term negative health consequences. Therefore, to avoid it, it will be necessary to work, now more than ever, on relationships with friends and family whom we have not shared time with for several weeks. If not feasible, online interactions also remain an effective tool for social connection.
- Caring for health through a healthy lifestyle. Health and well-being goals and lifestyle changes aimed at self-care can help to improve self-confidence. Among these are re-establishing a routine focused on regular physical activity (ideally practised outdoors) and following a healthy and balanced diet. Prioritizing rest and time set aside to enjoy personal hobbies are also strongly recommended.
Ultimately, the path to properly overcome this time of transition is to accept what has happened and learn from it, readjust our work, social and family life to the new requirements and, above all, to live in the present and work on our resilience to overcome adversity and the challenges to come.
1 Cigna Wellbeing App Telemedicine Data.