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  • A study of people who care for children finds that COVID-19 lockdowns have provided some unexpected benefits.
  • Survey respondents report four areas of personal growth that have been given an opportunity to flourish when busy lives were interrupted.
  • People reported positive changes in their family relationships, spiritual well-being, and more.
  • The study suggests ways we may emerge from the pandemic strengthened by the experience.

There is no question that the disruption of COVID-19 lockdowns and physical distancing measures has had a profound psychological and economic impact on many people.

For many, the normally frantic pace of life has ground to a halt. However, a new study from researchers at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom and the University of Lisbon in Portugal finds that being forced off life’s usual merry-go-round may not be all bad.

When people were asked, “Do you think there are any positives to come out of this pandemic and the social distancing restrictions?” 88.6% responded “yes.”

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, finds that hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can offer an opportunity for what the study refers to as “post-traumatic growth.”

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According to lead author Prof. Paul Stallard of the University of Bath’s Department for Health, there is no doubt about the pandemic’s negative toll:

“But that is not the full story. Many respondents in our study emphasized what we had heard anecdotally about some of the positive effects people have derived from leading their lives in quieter, slower ways because of lockdowns.”

The researchers drew their conclusions from the results of an online questionnaire completed by 385 caregivers from the U.K. and Portugal. Of them, 185 were in Portugal, and 200 were in the U.K.

The majority of the respondents were mothers who had intact nuclear families with one or two children.

The children in their care were aged 6–16. The questionnaires were completed between May 1 and June 27, 2020.

Nearly three-quarters of the participants — 70.4% — reported working exclusively at home. Of the children being cared for, 93% were learning from home via remote learning. The individuals in Portugal were more likely to have a single child in their care.

Just less than half of the individuals — 45.2% — reported making less money than usual during the pandemic. For the Portuguese participants, this loss of income was greater than 30%, although the individuals were more likely to be employed full time.

The survey respondents identified four primary areas of personal growth that resulted from the interruption of their normally busy lives.

As many as 48% of the respondents reported a renewed appreciation for their family.

Caregivers said they spent more time with their families, which led to, as one participant put it, “closer relationships and a better understanding of each other.” People also said they appreciated being more involved in their children’s lives.

With life being forcibly slowed down, 22% of the survey participants said that they had been given the opportunity to reassess their personal values and “reconsider what’s really important.”

People found themselves experiencing a “reconnection with small pleasures,” with less of an interest in material things. Since “life has slowed down,” 22% of the respondents reported living in a healthier way with less stress.

Another area of growth was spiritual growth, with more time to consider fundamental, existential questions.

Alongside their spiritual refreshment, individuals reported developing a kinder attitude toward others and a “stronger sense of community.”

This included a greater appreciation of people such as healthcare workers and an “acknowledgement of inequalities.” The respondents also cited the positive environmental benefits of fewer cars being out on the road.

For 11% of the survey participants, the pandemic had led them to the discovery of new opportunities and new possibilities.

People were pleased to have had a chance to master technologies involved in working from home and their children’s remote learning. They cited being able to develop a better work-life balance and mentioned that they enjoyed having the opportunity to guide their children as they studied remotely.

Prof. Stallard said: “These are important findings. Not only do we identify what some of these positive experiences have been, but we also show that those people who have been able to find those positives had better mental well-being than those who did not.”

According to co-author Dr. Ana Isabel Pereira of the University of Lisbon, “This study also suggests strategies that families returning to a more restrictive lockdown in several countries can use.” She concluded:

“In each moment, we can find new ways to connect and build stronger connections with our children, partner, or friends; to choose how we can make the best use of this time of confinement and to help others in the community experiencing more adversity or with fewer resources navigate this period.”

It is important to note, however, that this study is relatively small and included participants who were, as the authors explain, “highly educated mothers.”

Also, caregivers and parents of children younger than 6, and families headed by one person may have had a significantly different experience.

Discussing the study’s limitations, the authors explain: “[T]he cross-sectional nature of our design limits the conclusions that can be drawn. Although we can describe our data at a single point in time, we are unable to draw any conclusions about the nature of relationships or how these might change over time.”

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