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  • Yaa Asantewaa Faraji

Life Post COVID: Up Close and Unmasked
Photo Courtesy of The Atlantic

It was our real-world Thanos snap. In a matter of days, the mundane pleasures of life vanished into a vacuum of uncertainty and disbelief. Years later, and the residue of COVID remains an unwanted and undetectable substance still needing assessment. Despite the reopening of coffee shops and the sight of maskless patrons, the broader community is still recovering from the aftermath of the widespread event. Current research shows that 90% of Americans perceive mental health issues to be at an unprecedented high, a trend significantly magnified by the pandemic, according to CNN.

"The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated numerous social stressors that we know can increase the risk of both substance use and mental illness.”—Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse

In a forced metamorphosis, the pandemic disrupted widespread mental health in a variety of ways—through isolation, loneliness, job loss, financial instability, illness, and grief, among others. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reports that symptoms of anxiety, depression, deaths due to drug overdose, alcohol consumption, and suicide increased at the onset of the pandemic.

But in every shadow there is hidden light. While some suffered from the physical, mental, and emotional afflictions of COVID-19, others discovered blessings in the serendipity of change.

In 2022, more than 50 million Americans took part in the Great Resignation, a massive exodus uprooting the American labor market, largely due to wage stagnation, inflexible remote work policies, and job dissatisfaction. Almost overnight, a "new normal" established itself, shifting the professional landscape—and the values attached to it. Work-life balance, quality of life, mental health, and wellness soared to the top of the priority list as bottom-line objectives plummeted.

In addition to the $476 million+ stimulus payments totaling $814 billion, 20% of American workers bet on themselves and changed careers, proving that setbacks are just redirections in disguise. In an overwhelming pivot, the share of American workers working from home more than tripled from 2019 to 2021, redefining the nature of work—and this trend is on the rise. By 2025, 32.6 million Americans will work remote, with 98% of Americans preferring remote work over in-office.

The resurgence of self saw exponential growth during the pandemic, as Americans saw opportunity in their ideas, and their dreams. We witnessed record highs in 2021 for new businesses, with 5.4 million new business applications being submitted, up from 4.4 million in 2020 and 3.5 million in 2019.

Despite the disruption of our daily lives, the COVID-19 pandemic was more than a global phenomenon unlike any other in our lifetime. It was a much needed wake-up call for us all to take action.

The pandemic cast a silver lining that wove a common thread of shared experience between us. From the C-suite to the blue collar, we were all forced to go inside the belly of the virus, discovering ourselves and our true values in the process.

Though it's been a difficult time—and most of us are still searching for the calm reminiscent of pre-2020 days—we can all agree that the way out is almost always the way forward. It's been four years since COVID-19 destabilized the homes, corporations, and hearts of nations, and we'll likely never be the same.

But the only constant is change.

As we continue to thaw from the brittle cycles of the pandemic, we have the opportunity to rediscover ourselves, reconnect with our loved ones, reexamine our values, and forge new pathways toward our purpose in this lifetime.

And we're all just getting started.


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