In my request for new topics, a good friend said, “Given our current environment, last year and likely many months ahead, I’ve struggled with wellness – mind and body. I’ve read so many generic articles about taking walks, applying makeup, dressing like you would if going to work, etc. If anyone can shed some light from a different perspective, it is definitely you!”
When I heard this, I could relate. In June of last year, I found myself down, depressed and, at times, angry. I was tired of the pandemic and the effects it was having on me and my family. Since then I have ebbed and flowed in and out of periods of frustration as a result of the pandemic and I can see its effect on my immediate family as well. Our world has changed and the things I once loved to do are off limits or significantly altered. I have seen friends and industry connections get laid off. Our favorite restaurants are struggling, and in some cases, closing. We are afraid to visit family out of fear of bringing COVID-19 to them and visitors are very few at our house – something we very much look forward to each year after meeting friends from all over the country and moving around.
It is no surprise that the pandemic is wreaking havoc on us both mentally and physically. Losing our freedom to go out in public and enjoy every day activities is a loss. Add to that the fact that some have lost jobs, businesses and in the most extreme cases loved ones due to the pandemic and in most of those cases, the person had to go through the illness completely alone. The loss is significant, especially now that we’re almost a year into it, and many among us are grieving and in different stages of grief – denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. I am not an expert in grief, but if you want to learn more about the stages, check out this article that connects the stages to COVID-19. https://www.ednc.org/perspective-the-6-stages-of-coronavirus-grief/
Seek help if you are struggling. Depression is real. Many people are in a very dark place and you are not alone. If you are feeling down, talk to someone. I have had three distinct times in my life where I needed to talk to a professional for different reasons and there is no shame in it. If there is a financial barrier to seeing a professional, sometimes employers have what are called Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). I have used them several times and they have provided a series of complimentary appointments with professionals in all kinds of fields to help employees through different situations. There are also community resources that can be utilized to get help. You may not need a professional and friends or family may be enough support, but do not try to fight it alone. We are human. We need people.
In some ways, depression can be likened to the victim loop (Mark Samuel and Sophie Chiche, The Power of Personal Accountability, 2004) but in a very dark and life-threatening way. We all have gone there during the pandemic, but the key is how do we minimize the time we stay there and eventually get out? How can we take accountability for what we can control and live more days in the accountability loop than the victim loop?
Now that we’ve covered some of the impacts of the pandemic, it is time to turn the page and focus on the positive. I want to share some of the things we have done in response that have helped us in coping and moving through this transition in life. As you read these, think about how the pandemic has shifted your life to make it better. What are the silver linings?
Exercise and nutrition – These two things are the most important to my mental health. I believe this to be true for two reasons. 1) If I take time to exercise and plan and prepare healthy meals, that is a couple hours per day that I’m not sitting around thinking about the pandemic. It naturally takes your mind off of it for a while and I have been an avid fitness fanatic for more than 15 years so as weird as it may sound, exercising feels “normal” to me. 2) When I get exercise and eat well, I physically and mentally feel better about myself and what I have achieved that day and eventually over time. I can see physical differences and feel physically different (less headaches, fatigue, aches and pains). I am fortunate to have had one of my good friends start virtual workout classes as a result of the pandemic. Logging on and taking live classes with her and many others I have got to know over the years is beneficial for me physically and mentally. I get a connection to others even though it is not in person. We keep each other accountable and uplifted to stay positive. This January she created an accountability challenge where we all are on a sugar fast and committing to 5 workouts per week, drinking more water and eating healthier. The challenge also includes an exclusive Facebook group where we are sharing our successes, recipes and other encouragement. It’s been really uplifting, especially following the holidays.
Zoom calls and happy hours. I’m sure you’ve heard it and I’m also sure you’re tired of being on phones, tablets and laptops all of the time but virtual calls with friends and family have helped me through some of the isolation. I have reconnected with my college girlfriends through a virtual call and we have also utilized technology to meet with family members many times throughout the pandemic. Examples include ongoing happy hours where we connected every couple of weeks and holiday gift openings. As much as we’re tired of overuse of the platform, I have to say, embarrassingly, that I speak more to my family now than I did pre-pandemic. Some of that is probably because our lives are less busy with activities due to cancellations and we yearn to see people even if it can’t be face-to-face.
This blog. I won’t belabor this because I’ve already covered it in prior posts, but this blog was born out of the need to reinvent myself during the pandemic in order to be able to connect with others. Maybe it’s not blogging but what hobby have you wanted to try but not had the time for? If you are like me, you have more free time on your hands than pre-pandemic. Use it to reinvent yourself, learn and discover something new.
We are starting to travel again. I realize I may face an onslaught of pandemic guilting here but I’m being honest, and I’m not ashamed. We went to Florida for about a week over the holidays. It was just the four of us and we didn’t meet up with anyone. We stayed in a condo, tried to eat outdoors when possible and focused on activities that were outdoors like nature preserves, boardwalks, beaches, boat cruises and the like. Most importantly, we spent quality time together as a family and made new, lasting memories for years to come. I honestly don’t think we exposed ourselves any more being on vacation than we would have going to the grocery store and work here at home. For many locales, there are no restrictions to visit. Wear masks, wash your hands and be smart about your choices but most importantly, go and do things you love. It is so important mentally.
We are reinventing our life. I am past the point in believing that life is going to go back to “the way it was.” Some offices will never re-open and companies will move to fully remote work. Quick service and fast casual restaurant chains are already altering their design plans to move away from dining rooms completely and place more focus on drive throughs and curbside. Many people have relocated to new homes, and in some cases, completely different states during the pandemic. Instead of wasting time longing for the day things will go back to normal, we as a family have started to turn our focus to what changes we need in our lives within this pandemic and beyond. One example is that we are spending more time together as a family. We watch more movies or TV series together. We cook together more. We also play cards and games together. All of these things are wonderful changes. We also are discussing school and what changes we may make there next year based on what physical school is actually offering now that we are in a pandemic. Lastly, we are thinking about our dreams and our future. We’re contemplating moving dreams up in light of the pandemic. What are we waiting for? Imagine if in the future you are able to talk about what you did in the midst of the pandemic to advance yourself versus how the pandemic negatively impacted your life? Wouldn’t that be powerful? It is time to embrace the change and start dreaming again.
My biggest advice for how to survive and thrive during this pandemic is to accept that our world has changed forever. It is not going to go back to what it was before 2020. Work has changed, society has changed, schools have changed and life as we know it is being reinvented. Find something you can anchor to – a dream, a hobby, a job, an achievement you wish to make – and place your focus there. Stop waiting. BE COURAGEOUS and START doing something to move you out of the depression that can very easily take hold in isolation. Take back control of your life and stop using the pandemic as a reason to not fully live your life. IT IS TIME TO REINVENT and find new ways to thrive.