As we travel through this unprecedented time of COVID-19, we are quickly realizing the impact that social isolation and lack of connection has on our physical and mental health. Some of the things we have taken for granted; shopping, hugging friends, walking with our children in our parks, working in an office environment have radically changed. How well we move to the new normal, will depend on the adaptability as individuals and as a community to the physical and social environments that are around us. There is emerging evidence that the social environment that surrounds us, influences our sense of well-being.
The social environment is all the non-physical or built aspects of the environment that influence what we do, say, feel and think…and it has big impacts on our health and our quality of life. It is the underlying social, cultural and economic context within which we live. It includes all of the structures and processes we create, relationships we have and actions we take to organize and improve our lives.
We have collectively set aside our individual culture of busy for a moment and instead are focusing on the things that matter most. There have been many positive examples of people showing their gratitude to those who help us in this new world; grocery clerks, health care providers, truck drivers to name a few. The 7pm clanging of pots for health care providers, the free food and availability of showering facilities for truck drivers, the displays of appreciation in many front windows of homes, are all examples of how we celebrate and show gratitude of the role these people are playing n this pandemic.
Dr Bonnie Henry has given the go ahead to expand our social bubble to larger social circles while still keeping our personal hygiene and distancing and where possible making the visits outside. It is no coincidence that some of the first type of opportunities being made available to community are parks and green spaces. The ability to interact with nature and be physically active contributes to good health and well-being and overall quality of life.
Physical activity is important but it’s not the whole picture of what contributes to good health. We also know that social connectedness (for example: things like neighbourliness, positive social interactions, social support, inclusivity and community resiliency) has a significant impact on our health and well-being and overall quality of life.
As the next phases of the pandemic easing roll out, we will also see the importance of the environment that surrounds us; neighbourhood design, transportation systems, natural environment and food systems, and the impact to our daily lives. To help us understand what those impacts will be and the impact to us, is the recently released resource the Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit. The toolkit is an evidence based conceptual framework that municipalities and the public can access to help increase awareness and understanding and provide rationale for ‘why’ the built environment is important for well-being to help shape our communities.
Our new normal will no doubt look quite different but it seems with all of the focus by government and the health community on well-being, that we already have some tools and examples that will help shape our future going forward.
The May 11th, Conference Board of Canada blog, What is your Future Normal?, has an interesting thought for organizations going forward;
Let’s keep the sense of connection going that we feel in this time of crisis, even when we are isolated. Let’s bring the humanity we feel now back into our places of work. Let’s commit to retaining it above all else, even over policies and procedures that get in the way of kindness and empathy. Let’s do things differently so that engagement increases and people want to be at work.
I would add to that sentiment, that perhaps this is an opportune time for all of us to adapt and adjust to the future normal.