Humans seem hardwired for inflection points, important moments where they take stock of their lives and plot a course forward, aimed at happier, more fulfilling lives.
Millions do this at the beginning of each year. Others at birthdays and anniversaries.
Towards the end of The Great Pause that has been the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health experts advise that the next few months are a perfect time to pause and reflect on the kinds of lives we wish to lead post pandemic. Many urge folks to take steps to make our post-pandemic priorities a reality before the busy-ness of our lives spins us in unintended directions.
“While the pandemic has represented great challenges or losses for so many of us, it has also compelled many of us to put frenetically-paced lives on hold,” said Dr. Maria Aranda, a clinical psychologist in Tampa. “As we step more into a post-pandemic world, we each have an opportunity to consider how much we wish to return to over-scheduled lives, dominated by work and school activities. We can decide what good things to keep.”
Aranda added, “In many ways, families rediscovered the opportunity to breathe, spend time together and return to activities they used to love and enjoy together. Some have even cooked and eaten dinner together pretty consistently for the first time in years. Many children in their late teens and twenties have returned to their childhood homes, where they have worked remotely. Other families have rediscovered the outdoors, either with regularly beach trips, biking or hiking.”
Now, Aranda, stated, all of us have the opportunity to chart a new direction forward rather than react to life and be nudged into lifestyles—schedules, work and activities—that don’t bring them us same fulfillment.
What does she advise?
Pinpoint Priorities Take some quiet moments to pinpoint what priorities the pandemic has made very clear for you. If it is spending more time with family, build that into your new schedule. Schedule days of the week you will eat together as a family. One of the best predictors of family happiness and the mental health of their children is whether the family regularly shares family dinners, observed Aranda.
Schedule More Carefully and Mindfully American culture, with its focus on resume building and staying busy, can pressure families into building schedules that don’t permit time to breathe. “Pick your priorities and your children’s favorite activities,” said Aranda. “But don’t chase them all. Your mental health will be better served if you set aside one day a week where your attempts to relax and recharge are not competing with practices, tournaments and work. Try to make schedules intentionally and mindfully.”
Make Time for Recreation What gave you joy during the pandemic? What are you looking forward to doing now that the nation and world are reopening? “Pick three fun things you would like to do between now and the New Year,” said Aranda. “Schedule them now. And pick one thing you would like to do regularly, say once weekly or biweekly, that makes you happy. And then make these as big a priority for your family as you do work and holidays.”
Get Outside The famous naturalist John Muir once said, “Everybody needs beauty…places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” Whether one chooses a hike in the Smoky Mountains or a sunset walk on Reddington Beach with the swooping gulls and lapping waves, being outside recharges people. “So much of modern life is walled off from the natural world,” said Aranda. “Yet many of us rediscovered how significant being outside was to our mental health during the pandemic – even if it was in our yards with birdfeeders or butterfly gardens or evening walks where we speak briefly with neighbors out walking their pets.” She added. “Who has ever regretted going to the beach to watch a sunset?”
Take Time for Gratitude People who are happy regularly note the good and positive things in their lives even when faced with challenges. “An attitude that focuses on gratitude can actually be successfully cultivated,” said Aranda. “And practicing gratitude daily will make you happier.” Take a few minutes daily, Aranda advised, to take stock of your upcoming or concluding day. “And note three things that you are grateful for.”
Most important, during this moment of inflection in all our lives, is for us to be mindful and purposeful. “We’re in charge of how we live our lives and how we respond to unexpected events in our lives,” observed Aranda. “It’s easy to give into the temptation to react to events rather than to respond to them. We have agency in all this. Cultivating an attitude of purposefulness—where we create the lives we wish to lead—will be the best post-pandemic gift we can give ourselves.”
By Chris Barrett, Publisher