The Pandemic Increased Fun Hobbies and Healthy Activities

Whether it was starting a new collection of books or going hiking, a new study by Rutgers University says the pandemic brought something more than a virus — fun hobbies and activities to deal with stress.

Since the pandemic, more than a hundred million individuals across the United States have been infected with COVID-19. With such stressful times, people turned to hobbies to stay mentally and physically active.

Data from Caltech's COVID-Dynamic study was analyzed by researchers at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol and Substance Use Studies to assess the impact of pandemic-related emotional, physical, and economic stresses on drug use frequency.

A more complex picture of how Americans adapted to stay-at-home orders during the duration of the epidemic is presented in the study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Researchers found that reporting more positive pandemic experiences, such as increasing physical activity and exercise, spending more time outdoors or participating in hobbies, having time to cook to improve diet and nutrition, and spending more time with family and friends, even virtually, was associated with reporting more negative pandemic experiences across the work, home, and social domains.

This shows that many people may have modified their behavioral living routines and social interactions to adapt to the unfavorable pandemic effects.

Participants in the COVID-Dynamic survey were questioned about various pandemic-related experiences, including their physical and mental health, career, financial situation, and family. Additionally, they were questioned if they used drugs or alcohol every month and if the pandemic had any sound effects, such as increasing their activity or paying more attention to their food.

In collaboration with experts from three other institutions, researchers from Rutgers University, including Kaiser Permanente and the City College of New York, examined data from two COVID-Dynamic project waves to ascertain the relationship between drug use and pandemic-related events.

For example, people who reported the social and emotional effects of the epidemic were more inclined to drink, but those who reported economic difficulty were less likely to do so. Contrarily, nicotine usage was greater and lower depending on whether a person said social solid or economic effects.

The use of cannabis was positively correlated with emotional distress. The researchers said the lack of drug usage among the study subjects was perhaps the most unexpected discovery.

We often think in terms of collective trauma, but this sample upends the idea that the pandemic was universally impactful. Particularly for a normative population, the data show there's a lot of nuances in how people experience these kind of mass events.

- Co-author Alexandria Bauer

While some evidence indicates that drug and alcohol usage rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Margaret Swarbrick of Rutgers University, the team discovered that many people also found ways to cope during its worst days by engaging in beneficial activities like cooking, reading, and gardening.

Dean and Distinguished Professor Arpana G. Inman concludes: "Engagement in health habits and hobbies appeared to increase to cope with the negative impacts of the pandemic, demonstrating that many were resilient. This study demonstrates GSAPP's ongoing commitment to conducting relevant, cutting-edge research for the common good."

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