Self-improvement projects and personal growth have not been on my to-do list during quarantine. Mostly, I’ve been figuring out how to move from “barely functioning” to “functioning.”
As we enter this weird transitional time of staggered reopenings and questions about what comes next, though, I’m taking stock of the past couple months. And I’m realizing that, despite my best efforts, I have somehow managed to pick up a few valuable little habits during this ordeal. Habits of necessity, I think. Adaptive coping mechanisms I repeatedly turned to on my bad days—to the point that they’ve now solidified into actual practices and ways of being. Small and reliable tools that will stay with me, however how things unfold next.
1. FaceTiming friends to talk about nothing in particular.
I have a handful of very dear friends—all the most delightful people, and all of whom back in Normal Times I would make the effort to call or FaceTime maybe once a month, at best.
That wasn’t gonna fly during social isolation. More or less overnight, reaching out to the people I love became as necessary as food and sleep. No joke. FaceTimes and calls with my best friends (local and far-flung) have been little buoys of joy and connection and nourishment to hold on to during my many (MANY) ups and downs. The checking in, commiserating, complaining, crying, shit-shooting, Questioning Everything, laughing, probably more crying. It’s been a much-needed reminder of how happy I am to have these people in my life, and how life-sustaining that kind of connection can be when you nurture it.
2. Taking an actual lunch break.
Like many a U.S. office worker, I’d long been in the sad and unnecessary habit of eating lunch hunched over my desk. I convinced myself I was taking a break because I typically read the news or scrolled through Instagram. But sitting at your desk and staring at your computer or phone is a lot like sitting at your desk and working—not much of a break.
WFH life is taxing in a whole different way, we’ve all discovered. To get through the work day, I started taking actual lunch breaks. Nowadays, I physically close my laptop, put up an away message on Slack, and go do something besides work (or scroll on my phone) for a solid 45 minutes: Cook, read, go for a walk, take a cat nap, chat with someone, shower, make coffee. It’s easier to get through a morning of work when I know I have a legit break coming, and solidly checking out to refuel and rest leaves me feeling more mentally refreshed to push through the afternoon.
3. Counting my damn blessings.
Before the pandemic started, I knew on an intellectual level how extraordinarily fortunate I was. I even felt fortunate and grateful once in a blue moon. The scale and immediacy and relentlessness of all this suffering and loss, however—and the fact that I’ve escaped nearly all of it through no doing of my own—has made the absurdity of my good fortune so apparent that it’s something I can’t help but feel in my bones on a near daily basis. I’ve kind of inadvertently started practicing gratitude.
To not acknowledge how much I have to be grateful for started to feel like more of an intentional choice than to acknowledge it. Kind of like a big middle finger to the universe. So now I think about that for a few moments every day, at random times, because I can’t help it. Sometimes I write it down.
4. Letting a bad day be a bad day.
There’s something about the unnaturally controlled conditions engineered by social distancing/sheltering-in-place and the utter sameness of every single day that make it feel like we’re just running the same scientific experiment over and over again.