2020 has not been for the faint of heart. It’s been challenging in every sense of the word with new fears, anxieties, and insecurities surfacing at every turn. If no one has told you that you’re an incredibly strong and resilient person for making it here, let me be the first.
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At the start of the pandemic, it was kind of exciting to work from home for a few weeks. I mean, who doesn’t love wearing sweatpants all day!? We baked banana bread, watched Tiger King, and crossed things off our to-do lists that we hadn’t had time to get to for years. But with each passing day, our fears intensified and we began to feel the collective energy of a world on pins and needles, watching a virus wage war across the globe. Weeks turned into months, and now we have no idea when our new normal will look anything like the old.
Personally, the pandemic left me feeling exhausted and unmotivated. I ran out of shows to watch on Netflix, found it difficult to get any work done, and activities I typically loved (like cooking, reading, and listening to podcasts) became uninteresting. Like most people going through the pandemic, I missed my friends and my freedom. Anxiety and depression started to seep in, but I also felt guilty that I was so fortunate to be safe and healthy, and still felt so awful.
I just didn’t feel like me.
The truth is that no matter how much banana bread we bake and how much we try to utilize our time with cleaning out closets and starting new hobbies, we’re all missing normalcy during this time: a crowded subway, afterwork drinks at a bar, nights out and laughs with friends, the ability to dream up a summer vacation. Especially if you’re physically alone, you’re likely feeling emotionally alone too.
Although there may be differences in how we’re impacted by the pandemic, we’ve all been affected by it. The good news through this all is that no matter how isolated you are, it’s one of the rare instances where we’re all impacted and affected by the same thing. This means that if you’re not feeling like yourself either, it’s normal to feel this way; humans desire connection, so isolation and loneliness can fuel anxiety. Personally, it made me feel better to remind myself that I am not alone; other people are experiencing the same thing I am. This reminder helped me normalize my emotions and stop having guilt for what I was feeling.
If pandemic anxiety and isolation is feeling like too much for you, here are five things that helped me, and may help for you too:
Let the bad feelings in.
Trust me, I spent a lot of time pretending like things were fine when they weren’t. But the problem with that is if you don’t address or acknowledge negative emotions, they will always resurface. While anxiety, loneliness, and stress are uncomfortable to experience in the moment, it’s OK to not feel OK. In fact, it’s human nature to go through ups and downs in life. Acknowledging a “down” and letting yourself feel it fully is just as important as acknowledging and feeling when you’re in an “up.” Judging or suppressing negative emotions will accentuate them, rather than stop them, so let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling, and know that other people are feeling that way too. When all you want to do is cry, scream, and yell, do it.
If you don’t address or acknowledge negative emotions, they will always resurface.
Appreciate what you do have, even if it’s not the most ideal.
I get it: I’m totally over Zoom too. Internet glitches, forgetting I’m on “mute,” and delayed responses aren’t exactly the ideal formula for human connection. But the truth is that Zoom or Facetime truly are the next best things to in-person brainstorms at work or happy hour with friends at the bar. While I originally resented these limitations and hated how social interactions are determined by how good the internet connection is, I’ve learned to love conversations with friends over FaceTime and Zoom. Of course, video chats and phone calls can never replace the feeling we get being in-person, but I try to remind myself that even with internet glitches it is still a form of connection. Practice gratitude for the social interactions you do have (whether it’s your roommate or with loved ones virtually), and remind yourself that any amount of connection, no matter how small, should still be prioritized and celebrated.
No matter what’s going on in the world, we can still find joy and humor in the little things. Laughter makes us feel joy even when it’s hard to find anything to feel good about, and looking for humor will remind us to not take things so seriously. After all, the point of life is to enjoy it, and life doesn’t just stop when a stay-at-home order hits. Try to find humor in even difficult situations; look at using coffee filters when you run out of toilet paper or the appalling number of frozen pizzas you’ve eaten this week alone as hilarious anecdotes you’ll be telling sometime in the future. If you’re struggling to find any humor in what’s going on right now, turn off the news and watch a movie or show that always makes you LOL, or call up the friend who never ceases to make you belly laugh. Whatever works for you, remember that humor and laughter is not only possible when times are tough, but necessary.
The point of life is to enjoy it, and life doesn’t just stop when a stay-at-home order hits.
Embrace what makes you feel normal.
What are some of the things you loved doing pre-pandemic? What are the things that make you feel like the best version of yourself? Perhaps it’s painting or working out every day. Make a list of the activities that you love like reading, cooking, or playing an instrument, and then the things that make you feel like your best self, whether that’s eating certain foods, having a specific morning routine, or putting on lipstick and your fancy work blazer. Once you identify a few things that you love and make you feel like your best self, do them even more often, even when it feels hard (especially when it feels hard). Personally, going on a long walk to clear my head helps me feel like my best self, so I make sure to do it every single day. I also make a point to talk to friends consistently. Even if it’s just over text, it helps me feel more normal and connected to the world, outside of the news. No matter what it looks like for you, prioritize and emphasize the rituals and routines you love and that make you feel like yourself.
Look for the lessons and silver linings.
It’s a killer Kelly Clarkson song and a cliche, but it’s also so true: what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. And the toughest moments are key opportunities to not only get stronger, but to get better. Of course we miss our normal lives, but a lack of normalcy gives us the chance to learn lessons that will change us for the better. We’ve learned ways to spend and enjoy our time that isn’t work, watching TV, or going out with friends. We will always feel grateful for the little things like smiling at the barista or hugging our parents. What we once complained about, like overbooked social schedules and crowded subways, we will forever appreciate.
What we once complained about, like overbooked social schedules and crowded subways, we will forever appreciate.
Plus, there are a lot of silver linings we can look for (yes, really!). While scary and terrifying and different, this time in human evolution is also restorative. We’re staying at home and spending more time with our families, or Facetiming friends we haven’t caught up with in years. We’re getting more sleep, prioritizing mental health, and actually have time to stop, reflect, and rest. No matter what, we can find silver linings in anything. For example, do I miss my yearly vacation? 100 percent. But when I think about it, it’s also kind of nice to stay at home and not stress about packing, catching flights, or being a tourist. The truth is that the events we miss and negative emotions we feel does not have to negate the silver linings and the lessons we learn. We can feel lonely, anxious, and stressed, and also appreciate where we’re growing as people and becoming better. Plus, when we do, it might just help us feel a little less lonely, anxious, and stressed to begin with.