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Taking the Best of 2020 With Me Into Post-Pandemic Life

May 13, 2021 was the day many of us had been waiting for. America’s doctor and leading expert in infectious disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci, declared if you were fully vaccinated, it was OK to remove that annoying (albeit lifesaving!) piece of fabric from your face in most settings. With vaccinations widely available in our country, many of us finally felt safe enough to see friends and family, some of whom we hadn’t seen in well over a year. COVID-19 cases had drastically decreased, and the world appeared to be heading toward a new kind of normal. While many of us breathed a sigh of relief, I can’t help but feel mixed emotions.

Of course, along with most of the world, the initial emergence of COVID-19 stirred up confusion, anxiety and uncertainty within me. What was this mysterious virus furiously ripping its way across the globe, sickening and even killing what would become millions of people? As a psychotherapist, my caseload skyrocketed, filled with people sharing similar concerns. The fear of the numerous unknowns was understandably taking a toll on the mental health of many.

Families and friends quickly formed “Corona bubbles,” settling in for two weeks (haha, how naive we were back then!) of quarantining together. Thanks to technology and virtual platforms, those who were able to went from brick-and-mortar office buildings to makeshift home offices (hello window dormer “office” in my bedroom!). There were many who risked their lives to work the front lines, while others faced losing their jobs and financial unpredictability. Kids went from in-person school to e-learning at home, and parents tried not to lose their minds.

But in between the fear and uncertainty, wiping down Amazon packages and grocery deliveries and scouring store aisles for disinfecting wipes and toilet paper, there were Zoom happy hours with friends and family, one-person band concerts in neighborhood driveways and binge-watching shows that had been on proverbial “lists” for years. A stressful day of therapy sessions spent challenging clients’ thought distortions and reining in their catastrophizing wasn’t amplified by taking my daughter to various sports practices or running a gazillion errands in the evening. Instead, hectic days finally felt balanced with nights spent playing board games with the family, reading that book I had been too busy to pick up or having a glass (or two!) of wine on the deck while listening to some of my favorite musicians perform virtual concerts.

It felt as though time had finally slowed down a bit. The day-to-day rat race was forced to take a pause. People weren’t too busy to offer a friendly “hello” when passing each other on walks. The camaraderie of the human race felt almost palpable. From NYC’s cheers and applause every night at 7 p.m. for our frontline heroes, to Italians singing and playing music from their balconies, the world stood together for what felt like the first time in history.

In no way do I want to minimize the devastation and destruction of 2020. The physical and emotional toll it took on the globe will forever change us. And much like many people, my mental health and well-being was touch-and-go at times. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit there are things I’m going to miss, things I think at times really did improve both my mental health and outlook on life.

Things like truly being able to engage in quality time with loved ones, appreciating the small stuff (like the perfect timing of “Tiger King” hitting Netflix) and the fact many of us had a plausible excuse to refrain from engaging in society’s definition of productivity. For once, we had an excuse to not run ourselves ragged and were able to reflect on what is truly important in life. These are just a few of the things I will miss, and hope stick with me to some extent forever.

While we may not be out of the woods yet, especially as the Delta variant of the virus rises, many of us are emerging out of our safe and comfy homes and back into society. As many of us head back to the same or similar day-to-day grind, try taking some of the “feel goods” from the pandemic with you. When stress begins consuming you, think back to what helped get you through 2020 and mimic it if you can. Keep up regular contact with your childhood friends you reconnected with, smile at strangers as you walk past them and continue engaging in those new hobbies and coping skills you picked up.

Just because many of the COVID-19 rules and regulations have lifted doesn’t mean we have to dive back into our pre-pandemic lives at lightning speed. Find a gray area. One that still allows you to take time for your loved ones and for yourself. While 2020 may have been a dumpster fire in a lot of ways, 2021 gives us the opportunity to extinguish the flames and rebuild something beautiful. Let that something beautiful be a more balanced and fulfilling life.

Unsplash image by Brooke Cagle

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