Since the coranavirus pandemic started, we’ve all had to adapt in various ways—from working at home and masking up, to forgoing cherished gym time and seeing fewer friends and family. We’ve also learned some profound pandemic lessons about what’s truly important.
Even with a new vaccine in play, the pandemic clearly isn’t over. To keep your perspective grounded and your body and mind strong, we asked health experts—from therapists to personal trainers—to share their biggest pandemic lessons thus far. Integrate their takeaways into your own life to support your well-being as these unprecedented times continue.
Sitting With Uncertainty Is Uncomfortable But Necessary
Though it’s no easy thing, COVID-19 has taught us all the importance of coping with and accepting the unknown. “So often, we try and grab on tighter when we feel like things are spinning out of control,” says psychotherapist Meredith Prescott, L.C.S.W. “I have helped clients work through thoughts and feelings around uncertainty, teaching them to not resist them but instead to accept them, even if they are uncomfortable.”
If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, now is the time to seek help, Prescott says. And when uncertainty comes knocking, “lean into these thoughts,” she suggests. Feel them fully. Counterintuitively, the more you resist invasive, negative thoughts and feelings, the more they’ll plague you. “We cannot heal without feeling,” she adds. When you allow yourself to sit in discomfort, you’ll find it subsides quicker.
Mocktails Are More Fun Than You Think
For dietitian and Fitter Living advisor Amanda A. Kostro Miller, R.D., L.D.N, the pandemic brought forward the necessity of cutting back on alcohol.
“Depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation during this pandemic can be exacerbated by alcohol,” she explains. “Alcohol is a depressant. While you may feel happy-go-lucky while drinking, you may experience depression or bad moods in the days after.”
That’s where mocktails, which can be a festive way to toast to an occasion or signify the end of the workday (and transition into relaxation mode), come in, she says. Keep it simple by garnishing seltzer or ginger ale with mint and cucumber slices, or mixing in muddled berries or a squeeze of fresh lemon, lime, or orange juice. Or, get fancy with a kombucha mocktail.
We All Deserve Work/Life Boundaries
As for many, the significance of work- and personal-life boundaries took center stage for Prescott during the pandemic. In fact, the importance of separating the two became one of her top pandemic lessons.
“Right now, more than ever, we are so reachable,” she says. “But just because we are reachable, doesn’t mean we need to respond right away. ”Often, we feel obligated to respond to a work email on nights or weekends, or even stick to Zoom happy hours with a friend after a trying, screen-filled day.” Instead, use these moments as opportunities for starting a dialogue and creating positive change. “Setting new boundaries with people might be needed, as things have changed,” Prescott says. “Identify what your expectations are in your relationships and communicate them.”
If you feel exhausted from a lack of work/life separation, check out our guide to dealing with burnout—and how to recoup.
Quick Breathing Breaks Really Do Keep Stress At Bay
Even when face masks and social distancing come to a glorious end, trainer and yoga teacher Allison Jackson, C.P.T., YTT-200 will continue to meditate for a few minutes here and there every day. “Taking meditation breaks to reset and recharge throughout the day has dramatically helped me prevent overwhelm, reduce stress, and avoid burnout,” she says.
“I meditate for five to 10 minutes each morning, which I’ve found so incredibly beneficial that I began adding five to 10 minutes during my lunch break and then again as a transition from work to home life,” she continues. This ritual has been such a game-changer for Jackson that she no longer needs her 3 p.m. caffeine break.
To bring some Zen into your life, see these five easy ways to add meditation to your day. Start out with just a few minutes in the morning, at lunch, or at the end of the workday.
We All Need News And Social Media Ground Rules
During the pandemic, Dr. Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., a nurse educator and advisor at NurseTogether.com, realized the importance of limiting media that negatively impacts her mental health. She knew she needed to make changes after observing how certain media “disrupted the mental calm” she so desperately tried to maintain.
“Whether social media, news media, or TV and movies, I learned how to create healthy boundaries with any media that unnecessarily adds to my anxiety and stress,” she says. “I stopped watching the news every morning and learned to check fact-based, unbiased sources of information, such as the NIH or the CDC.”
Instead of her nightly TV habit, she started reading before tucking in for the night. She also unfollowed anyone on social media who chipped away at her inner peace.
Her pandemic lesson (and 2021 goal): “Unfollow or unfriend people, leave that Facebook group that just consists of people arguing, stop watching stressful TV, and replace those things with factual information and people that bring you joy,” Liphart Rhoads says.
Mornings Don’t Have To Be All Hustle
Candice Conroy, L.M.H.C., owner of Let’s Talk! Counseling and Services in Orlando, is grateful that she’s been able to shake up her morning routine for the better since COVID. “My morning commute vanished and I became one of many Americans suddenly working from home. With this came the opportunity to do something radically different with my morning routine,” she says.
Conroy previously kicked off the day with social media scrolling and replying to emails, texts, and client messages. “I frequently found myself feeling stressed, rushed, and inadequate before I’d even had my breakfast (if I ate at all). Now I start my mornings from a place of self-care before anything else,” she says.
Conroy started using her Fitbit alarm to wake up instead of her cell phone’s. She leaves her phone tucked in a drawer until it’s time to “clock in.” Then, she journals or meditates to process anything weighing on her, eats breakfast, and walks her dog while listening to an audiobook.
To make your mornings more focused on self-care than your technology, Conroy recommends keeping your phone stashed away and silencing notifications for a set amount of time. “Any other self-care habit becomes infinitely easier with your phone out of sight.”
Quiet Time Is, Well, Kind Of Nice
Whether it’s the reverberating “ommmm” of 15 fellow yogis at the end of class or singing your favorite lyrics at top-of-the-mountain decibels at a concert, there are plenty of pre-pandemic-life sounds we miss.
However, with a little constructive reframing, J. A. Plosker, L.M.S.W., a mindfulness and self-discovery coach, has learned to embrace the relative silence.
For him, fewer social gatherings and the lack of mall or movie theater outings have helped him ”discover even more joy in the simple pleasures of a solitary walk around the neighborhood,” he says. “Not being able to frequent restaurants has also heightened my appreciation for quiet meals at home.”
In fact, Plosker recommends we all continue to build solitary time into our routines—even as life resumes a state of normalcy (or closer to it). “Take walks alone in the park. Sit quietly on the couch with tea. Take time to appreciate silence,” he suggests. “Even when loneliness is gone, alone time can still be powerful.”