We’ve had a lot of time to reflect over the past year. A bit too much time, I think we can all agree. Navigating our changed world feels like one long ride on the dodgems. Bumping through fears, isolation, loss and vague feelings: meh, blah, ugh. About ready to haul yourself off and then along comes another jolt, shaking up the world yet again.
These unprecedented times™ have exposed aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed. Whether pleasant surprises or uncomfortable truths, these nuggets offer us valuable lessons for the future.
Here’s 5 things I’m taking away from our time in confinement. Though the global pandemic is far from over, these are things we can apply and appreciate now. For those of you sick of takeaways, these contain a little less salt.
1. There is beauty in the mundane
We can easily look back at our old way of life with glossy, nostalgic eyes. Yes, we have new stresses to contend with, but we also shed some: draining commutes and relentless decisions about how we should spend our time, money, energy. Matt Haig cut straight to it: “Can we please stop pretending our former world.. was a mental health utopia”. In a breakaway from my time-is-productivity mentality, I found space to have a too blessed to be stressed morning routine before leaving the house, setting myself a more relaxed pace and a clearer mindset for the day ahead. I also couldn’t leave the house.
Life got cancelled and we were forced to re-shape how our time was spent. For some, responsibilities demanded how this time was spent: looking after children and vulnerable relatives, extra shifts at work. For others, swathes of time appeared with only seemingly mundane things to spend it on: not another walk and I have to feed myself, again?!. And then one day on your well-trodden route you notice the leaves turning orange and falling, the first bulbs pushing up for spring. Stripped bare of regular thrills food has risen to the fore. Friday night drinks substituted for pouring over a cookbook or drafting in your favourite local eatery. I’ve dabbled with Ottolenghi’s Flavour to hit and miss results: from a mushroom lasagne I could only dream to replicate to a pile of mush masquerading as gnocchi. Despite our weariness, sparks of enjoyment came from the small, the mundane, the unexpected.
2. Structure is in; expectations are out
Lockdown brought a sledgehammer to routines, the foundations that allow us to balance our lives. We can all appreciate the feeling of not needing to set an alarm for the morning, resting in the bliss of a lie in. What about the feeling when you don’t need to set an alarm, nor get up for any reason, and wonder whether there’s really any point in getting out of bed at all? Previous motivators vanished and there was little certainty to cling to. This uncertainty is danger upon which anxiety thrives – how can you be kept safe if you don’t know what’s round the corner? Routines create a comfortable and familiar pattern. Setting out where I’d like to spend my time each day helps me towards a “good enough” day in lockdown and prevents me being sucked into a vortex of distraction.
Let’s face it, 2021 is not the year for new year’s resolutions. Did you plan to ‘get fit’ through lockdown and now look at yourself with the disdain of failure (but held your life together fairly well during a pretty awful time?). Fixing ourselves to outcomes in a world where nothing is reliable creates disappointment and, ultimately, bad vibes.
With plans constantly changing, shrinking down, moving outside and ultimately being cancelled, we have learned not to shackle ourselves to expectations. The only reliable moment we have to live in is now.
3. The best thing to hold onto is each other
While the novelty of lockdown was still fresh, there felt like a flurry of engagements (Zoom quizzes, Houseparty for a day). When they came to an inevitable end, it all went eerily quiet. This silence forced us closer to those that really matter, the relationships we value above all else. Who are the people you can’t live without? Are there people you miss? Reaching out to people you haven’t heard from in a while is easy to avoid: it’s been a year, I don’t even know where they’re living, what they’re doing, it’s definitely too late. While sat in our own little box, we can easily tell ourselves a story of what’s happening in someone else’s little box. Even if it feels inorganic, stuffy, awkward: we’re not alone and we don’t have to be.
Communities have banded together to do what they can for one another. Small acts of connection – helping an elderly neighbour, checking in on others, supporting local businesses. Our former weekly cheering rituals were filled with overwhelming gratitude for those battling to keep us safe and our communities running. The clanking of pots and pans rippling over the rooftops, war cries from neighbours muddling through their own struggles. Small cracks of light seep through in the smiles of strangers, giving us glimpses of hope that we can get through this together.
4. Focusing on what you can control helps
If there’s one thing evident, it’s that we can control very little of what sprouts up in life. The global spread of a virus and its impact on your work and living situation; the hazy words of befuddled politicians and their very concrete consequences. All we can focus on is what is immediately before us. How we eat, move, rest, work and help to mitigate the spread of a virus, as well as the information we’re taking in from out there.
There is so much doom and gloom in the news, not because the world is all doom and gloom but because that’s what catches our attention (we didn’t survive being eaten by lions by manifesting positivity). I’ve turned to places like Positive News and Tortoise to stay in touch with what’s happening without being engulfed in hysteria. In a time when social media is a window into the lives of others that we’re not seeing in reality, we all need to be conscious consumers. You can choose to be educated, entertained, challenged and inspired over content that makes you feel unsettled, unworthy or uninterested.
Ultimately it’s your quarantine and you can choose whether to engage with what’s happening out there. Hell why not pull the plug altogether to see what it is like to nourish your mind with input that isn’t digital. Use that time to invest in your immediate surroundings: nature, food, books, roomies.
I look forward to emerging from my cave, scraggy haired and bleary eyed, to find out the lockdown ended six months ago.
5. First it hurts, then it changes you
With our normal rhythms flung into the air, plans torn up, fear for the health of ourselves and others seeping in, we had to adapt to survive. Our life was reframed in terms of what really matters to us and the toughest of times forces us to consider what we really need. Perhaps you’ve had the time to live more sustainably: upcycling, fixing, buying less. I’ve appreciated more than ever the local businesses, considering where my money goes (answer: all to sourdough from the local deli) and whether this supports a community I’d like to see continue to flourish.
Whether naturally or through necessity, we found the importance of carving time out for our wellbeing. Seeking space in your mind to take in your surroundings, experiences and emotions. Movement, meditation, picking up old or new hobbies, exploring your local area to the point you’re about to contact Google to tell them where they’ve dropped the ball. Five minutes of focusing on your breath isn’t going to make the pandemic any less woeful, or your housemates, children, partners any less of a pain in the neck, but it might have helped us to cope with stressful situations a little easier. Did you surprise yourself?
This journey continues to be a rough ride for each of us for our own unique reasons. Though challenging, reflecting on our experiences can reveal pieces of wisdom that may have taken us a lifetime to learn about ourselves. We have an opportunity to use these insights to change to how we react to what life throws our way in future, for the better.
When the doors of the world are thrown open again, there is so much we’ll be able to rush back to. Only we don’t have to rush, and we don’t have to go back.
Images from Lockdown: Taking a Positive View