2020 has been a year of great stress, social isolation, uncertainty, and anxiety. Like many, I am glad it’s coming to a close, though while the temptation to say that 2021 will be better is omnipresent, I fear that change is not coming quick enough to counteract the pain the past ten months has caused. Everywhere I look, I see loss. Job loss, loss of savings, motivation, loss of relationships, clients, businesses, restaurants, and loss of life as we know it. Right now, the ongoing losses are syncing up with the inevitable low point of the year when the holidays are over, and many places are gearing up for a bout of dark, cold months.
I’ve read many pieces lately on what it’s going to take to make it through what is, with a bit of luck (and a concerted vaccination effort), the final phase of this pandemic. Many discuss the need to develop long-term resiliency and avoid being too easy on ourselves. The argument is that now is the time to toughen up and prepare for the hard work that will hopefully be required in the spring and summer, when perhaps things start to feel a bit more normal.
While I hope that the need for an uptick in work is on the horizon, I worry that it’s not for many. That because we have become accustomed to surviving with all of the loss, everything will remain shrunk, whether it be our social groups, business circles, or client needs. Many are too exhausted or overwhelmed to try to re-broaden after a year of downsizing and because the opportunities may not be available as they were before. As companies decide they can run even leaner and do the same with fewer resources, employees, and budgets, it’s the people — your parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends — and the small businesses that get left behind.
Since the pandemic started, the reality is that at Crush Limits, like many other small businesses, we’ve seen our client needs shrink not because the need to help employees isn’t there but because the budgets and appetite for spending aren’t. We all hope that we’ve stocked away enough for a rainy day, but most didn’t put away enough for a full rainy year. I know this to be true because the U.S. Labor Department’s latest figures show that many employers are still cutting jobs as the ongoing pandemic tightens business restrictions and consumers have less to spend.
The long-term mental health effects of what’s happened to us aren’t all the way known, but when even the most resilient among us are having a hard time, I know the outlook can’t be great. We have a society filled with those that feel underutilized, financially unstable, and bored, and those that are strapped for time with numerous responsibilities but somehow also feel unproductive and ill-fated. It’s a strange sensation not to have a moment to yourself in the day, but to also end it feeling totally unaccomplished. I find myself in the latter category but have family and friends in the former, and I genuinely wish that all of us could find some sort of healthy middle ground. A place where we could find peace in the waiting, without so much of the anxiety that comes with actual or perceived stagnation.
That spot looks different for everyone, but here are a few things I’ve found helpful in the past few weeks in trying to find it or perhaps will it into existence.
- Give your mind a rest from worrying. Take a few weeks and lean into whatever you’ve got going on (barring that whatever that it isn’t harmful to you or someone else) and then re-evaluate. If your mind keeps spinning, you won’t be able to get the clarity to determine what’s working and what’s not. It is easier said than done, but I’ve found that giving yourself permission and taking a forced mental rest serves to alleviate some stress.
- Connect with people even when you don’t feel like it. Over the past month, I’ve made the conscious decision to log back onto the dreaded Zoom in the evening to have a chat with friends, former colleagues, or to join networking events. Each time, I started out and with a million excuses as to why I didn’t have the time or energy, but once the conversations got going, I found myself feeling more whole and a bit rejuvenated. Plus, the investment in meaningful relationships, especially when it comes to work, has a net positive return. It’s true — in a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, the authors detailed a small study on happiness at work. They interviewed a diverse group of 160 people from a range of industries and positions, and found that “people whose work is mundane or demanding are just as likely to feel satisfied and fulfilled as those with fun or inspiring jobs if they proactively invest in relationships that nourish them and create a sense of purpose.” https://hbr.org/2019/07/to-be-happier-at-work-invest-more-in-your-relationships
- Keep moving. Endorphins are real. On the days that feel especially gloomy, write down how you feel before a workout or a walk and how you feel after. I guarantee you’ll see that once you’ve completed your activity, you’ll be a few notches more improved on the mood scale.
- Look at old photos and videos. I avoided this all pandemic because I didn’t want to see what once was (including my blonde hair that’s now brown after many months away from the salon) and couldn’t be right now. Still, when I finally did, I found I could re-experience some of the joy that I had lived through. It’s also given me, in a small way, something to look forward to even if things like travel, parties, and socializing are a long way away.
- Research post-traumatic growth. When I had my son last year, I experienced a traumatic birth. In the weeks and months after he was born, I found myself lost in the feelings of grief associated with the terrifying experience I had bringing him into the world. But over time, as the good memories with him swelled, my sorrow over his birth shrunk, and I was left with an expanded heart and mind. I felt that I grew as a person, partner, and mother from the experience. What happened is known in the scientific community as post-traumatic growth. A growing body of research shows that positive psychological change can be experienced due to adversity and other challenges. Often surviving trauma (i.e. a global pandemic) results in a higher level of functioning. I find this research incredibly hopeful and motivating and think that if you dig into the concept a bit, you will too.
I’ll leave you with this. Be kind to yourself and kind to those around you. Give grace when it’s due, and give help when you can. I hope that 2021 is much better than last year, but if it’s not, take solace in the fact that when we all come out on the other side, we’ll have grown. What is happening now is making us stronger, more resilient, and higher functioning in the long run. Cheers to you and yours.