Written by Moe Gelbart, PhD, Director of Behavioral Health
It feels like we are finally coming out of a dark cave. In the last few
weeks, we have been seeing friends, going to events and restaurants, engaging
in activities that we have avoided for the last 15 months, and, heaven
forbid, even taking our masks off at times. While we are ready to move
forward with our lives, we need to balance optimism with caution, and
learn from our experiences. If we heed the lessons learned from the pandemic,
our ability to grow and thrive will be great. Those lessons include focusing
on the things which really make us happy and fulfilled.
At the same time, we need to accept that just because the crisis seems
to have stabilized, all will not automatically return to how it was, and
we need to accept that the process may be slow. As a society, we are suffering
from the highest levels of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse that
we have seen, and many people are still anxious about an unknown future.
In addition, many have suffered extreme personal and financial losses,
and are prone to bouts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As the saying goes, how can we make lemonade out of lemons? What have we
learned that, if we take to heart, will improve our lives and help us
achieve and create happiness and well-being? Here are some things to focus
on, and consider.
Life is fragile and unpredictable. We could hardly have imagined what we had to live through. All of our routines,
behaviors, roles, and plans were turned upside down. It has taught us
that, although we have to plan for the future, it is important to live
in the present, and enjoy every moment. Nothing is guaranteed, and although
we like to feel we are competent, powerful, and able to control many things,
we need to accept that much, if not most, is outside our control. It is
important to recognize that although this may sound concerning and painful,
it is actually a positive recognition and can free us up to enjoy the moment.
We are more resilient than we thought. Resilience is the ability to adapt well to adversity, tragedy, trauma,
threats, and significant sources of stress. If, a year and a half ago,
we were asked if we could handle our society closing down, hundreds of
thousands of people dying, and all that we have gone through, many of
us would have thought it was not possible. We have learned that we are
more capable and more resilient than we ever thought, and the knowledge
that we were able to handle the pains of the pandemic will go a long way
to fortifying us and preparing us to handle crisis in our lives in the future.
The importance of relationships. While we were socially distanced, we learned that we did not have to be
socially isolated. We found ways to reach out and connect to friends and
family. How many of us ever heard of a zoom meeting a year and a half
ago? Remaining connected required more work than it did in the past, and
we experienced the benefits of relationships. The science of the psychology
of happiness has proven that isolation is poor for one’s mental
health, while staying connected puts one on the road to happiness. We
have experienced a myriad of ways to stay connected, and need to make
sure we continue to communicate effectively with those in our lives.
The importance of self-care. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, healthy sleep habits, moderation in
alcohol use, and daily meditation/mindfulness practice all helped maintain
our bodies and minds in good condition, and allowed us to ward off the
ill effects of change, despair, uncertainty, and loss. The ability to
keep our minds and bodies functioning well has, more than ever, proven
to be within our choice.
The importance of gratitude, and caring for others. When things were difficult, especially in the beginning, many of us began
to catastrophize, and to think of the worst. Our negative thinking led
to feelings of despair, anxiety, and depression. However, as a large body
of research has indicated, the ability to reflect on and experience gratitude
and gratefulness in small and daily things helps one stay centered and
not lose track of what is important. Thinking of three things you are
grateful for each day has tremendous positive impact on how we feel, and
is an easy exercise to do regularly. In a similar vein, when we can get
outside of ourselves, and provide for others, it becomes we who benefit the most.
The importance of acceptance. The ability to acknowledge and accept one’s feelings, and to not
self-judge, or judge others leads to a sense of inner peace. We do not
have to get “back to normal” all at once. We need to be kind
to ourselves, and accept that things have changed, and that there is a
“new normal”. We need to honor our own feelings, concerns,
fears, and not see that as any form of weakness, but rather strength.
This has been a difficult year, but challenge often brings opportunity.
The lessons we have learned during the pandemic teach us that happiness
and well-being can be achieved through intention and through action. A
new map is available to us. We just have to walk down the path.