But amid our collective fear and suffering, there have been some silver linings. We have learned to be friendly and to take care of our neighbors, we have slowed down, parents have spent more time with their children – in person and on Zoom. We have become more focused on our physical and mental health and learned to appreciate the smallest things that we took for granted. We’ve proven to ourselves how resilient we are, and we’ve treated one another with compassion.
Sitting and juggling at home with toddlers or teenagers has been a nightmare for many as an office and schools suddenly closed overnight. But slowly – and not necessarily by choice – working hours became more flexible as parents planned meetings with virtual classes and meal times for their children.
Children’s zoom-bombing meetings became the norm, work calls on walks were encouraged, and we gave up trying to be perfect for being human. Most importantly, families who were physically together spent much more time together, reminding us of the value of those relationships.
For those separated from loved ones, “family” with friends, neighbors, or strangers in their community has taken on new meaning and formed sacred pandemic bubbles. Even families that were miles apart spent more time together as we checked in, lamented milestones, and celebrated each other.
The word “office” meant a bedroom, closet, outdoor cafe, or (for the lucky ones) a poolside sun lounger. We have recognized, however, that we can be effective and productive in adapting “work” to our circumstances rather than adapting our lives to some form of business.
And as our tunnel vision widened to include work, life in all of its beauty and horror allowed us to teach us how to live fuller and more fulfilling lives.
Focus more on mental health
The pandemic has hit us individually in different ways. There was no guide on how to get through, but overall there has been a shift to self-care to give us space and patience in our vulnerabilities to work through.
For some who did journaling, others took daily walks or long bubble baths. Self-care was no longer seen as an indulgence but as a necessity to move on.
We had open conversations with people and set boundaries when prioritizing our mental health – seeking help, crying, dancing, screaming, or laughing for almost no reason – nothing was off the table as long as it helped.
This focus on our sanity enabled us to grow, get to know each other better, and meet buried demons or forgotten dreams, and work on our personal self-improvement.
“We don’t have a vaccine for our mental health as we do for our physical health,” Lisa Carlson, former president of the American Public Health Association and chief administrator of the medical school at Emory University in Atlanta, told CNN.
“Above all, I hope this is when we break down barriers to discussing mental health because I think the most important thing we can do as professionals, in our families and in our communities is about it to speak of it, “she said.
Lockdown forced us to try new methods. It wasn’t easy, but the impossible became possible and many of us now have a stronger perspective on our abilities.
Many became unemployed and learned new skills. Chefs started selling to consumers directly on Instagram. Others switched careers entirely, such as the French actor who became a baker Richaud Valls. His lockdown attempts to recreate a baguette from his childhood in Paris revealed a passion for baking that has now grown into a full-time business.
With closed gyms, we opted for more old-fashioned sports like running, cycling, or walking. We participated in virtual workouts which in turn made them accessible to a new, wider audience.
And from doctor appointments to weddings to religious services and concerts – everyone learned about Zoom, where a lot of amazing things have happened in the past year.
Above all, it has been shown that we are resilient – and hopefully the darkest days of the pandemic are behind us.
Do you remember the 7pm worldwide applause for our healthcare workers? Do you remember how grateful we were for a casual act of kindness, from a stranger’s smile to a ray of sunshine?
The desolation of the pandemic and universal suffering helped us see the good things that were happening in a new light. We appreciated what we had so often taken for granted. Spontaneous appearances filled us with joy and leaving our house for a walk was a moment to cherish. Smallest victories became a reason to celebrate.
We focused on others, checked them in, and bought groceries for more vulnerable people who couldn’t take risks. The communities gathered to share groceries and staples. We all felt we were there with a common Covid-19 enemy.
And yet, as we go around the corner in the US, so many countries are still suffering. You are nowhere near the US to get out of the pandemic. Likewise, not everyone has the luxury of a hybrid work model; many are still unemployed or paralyzed by fear or grief.
Realizing how happy some of us are and being grateful for it is an important mindset for recovery. Those of us with this privilege must remember that our happiness is an opportunity to uplift others.
Improve the planet
It was one of the videos that went viral during the first lockdown in 2020: a dolphin swimming close to the surface in what is believed to be a Venetian canal. It was a fake, of course – it turned out to be shot near the port of Cagliari on the island of Sardinia. But the real news is that the earth’s health has improved over the past year.
The decrease in global CO2 emissions, as flights were canceled along with our daily commute, resulted in an improvement in air equality in more than 80% of the countries in the world.
According to IQAir’s 2020 World Air Quality Report, human-related emissions from industry and transport decreased during the closures, and 65% of the world’s cities analyzed recorded better air quality in 2020 than in 2019. Around 84% of the nations surveyed reported improvements in air quality overall.
Even when we set out on our way, we walked more or cycled instead of taking a car or public transport. We did less shopping and had less overall waste as the majority of people worked from home.
While these trends could soon be reversed once it becomes safe to travel again, the pandemic has shown us that work meetings or conferences can also be effective remotely. Corporations survived and some even flourished with a distant workforce. This time that we didn’t travel was an opportunity for us to do other things or to be away from loved ones for days. And the added bonus is that it has helped our planet too.
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Ultimately, life will never be exactly the same. There has been great loss of life and suffering around the world, and the effects will be felt in the years to come. But for those fortunate enough to go back to normal, this is an opportunity to redefine what that means together.
As Maya Angelou once said, “If you always try to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”