Bring Your COVID-19 Coping Skills Forward Into The New Year

Photo by Gary Meulemans on Unsplash

There’s considerable research in psychology to suggest that after a trauma we can come back stronger than before. We can become more resilient. Tragedy can trigger the development of new coping skills.

This is the case with the coronavirus pandemic.

Now is the time to notice any positive habits you’ve developed and decide to keep them moving into 2021. No one expects the virus to vanish on January 1st, but we’re edging closer, so deciding on your intentions post-virus can help you maintain those healthy routines.

Here are some examples:

People are exercising and getting outside more. A combination of not having much to do and wanting to get out of the house yielded a huge crop of new walkers, runners and cyclists. Like seesaw dieters, it could be a situation where once things return to their new normal, the newly fit ditch their new habits. This need not be the case. Once you have established the habit, you simply need to recognize that, as life changes, you may have to tweak the schedule or location. Remember, the habit change made you feel better. In the future, with no pandemic, it is still likely to make you feel better.

Cooking at home has a lot of benefits in the middle of a pandemic. Restaurants were out of the question, now they’re open in some places, closed in others and iffy at best. Reducing exposure to people and the things they touch has resulted in busy pick-up and delivery grocery services and cooking instead of relying on take-out. Boredom has led to trying new styles of cooking, like finally using that instapot Aunt Sally gave you, and new recipes. Some have made it a family activity.

Voila! More new habits in the making. It’s not that we shouldn’t support our local restaurants (gift cards are nice) and shouldn’t return when they re-open (with masks and social distancing), but for many, continuing to cook at home, at least some of the time, is healthier, cheaper and maybe more fun.

People are connecting in different ways. Never before have there been so many virtual drinks, yoga classes and calls to family. Who thought we’d be visiting grandma in the empty parking lot of a strip mall? We are reminded of people because of worry (Are they staying home?; Are they okay?) or because we recognize that life can, indeed, be short. You can tell when people are thrilled with your call and happy to have you in a virtual group get-together. They’ll feel the same way once we are post-COVID. Relatives, friends and colleagues will appreciate you reaching out even post-rona.

And those health care workers we’ve been thanking in all sorts of awesome ways, keep it up after the pandemic; their work is always challenging and even small gestures of appreciation help.

We are less concerned about appearances. People who would normally not meet up without make-up and a carefully vetted outfit are Facetiming in their jammies, maybe having washed up a bit first, maybe not. Sometimes they’re propped on a bed, since the bedroom is often the only private place in the home. For those who do have to don work attire, it’s often only from the waist up; there’s a nicer shirt on a chairback for a quick Zoom call or lip gloss in the drawer as a vague nod to appearances. Continuing to be less worried about how we look and more focused on how we act seems like a positive 2021 intention.

If you’re in management, have you noticed that a lot of your people can work effectively from home? While there are those who do not, or cannot (those pesky kids), many work well from home. There is evidence that people are happier working from home because they avoid traffic, concentrate better, can do a little needed parenting, have fewer interruptions and benefit from the flexibility of working when it suits them. Less traffic is good for the planet. There are always going to be exceptions, but overall, this appears to be for the greater good.

People are checking on their neighbors. We are giving money, time and supplies to those in need, something that always happens in times of disaster. What doesn’t always happen is checking on and talking to neighbors. We need to keep doing this, right? Even if they don’t need anything, it’s nice to know someone’s concerned about your welfare. A friendly chat is enough to brighten someone’s day.

Not shaking hands is a good thing. So are handwashing, not hugging and not kissing hello, or goodbye. There are many places in the world where people don’t shake, hug or kiss in greeting. Why not us? Teaching our kids to do this is another win. As we all know now, it’s only a matter of time before another pandemic, so why not maintain this communal effort toward health?

Masks are a good thing. People in many Asian countries have been wearing masks for years when they’re sick. It’s deemed the considerate thing to do. We’ve all gone to the store or to work while feeling ill, exposing others to our germs. Would it be too much to ask of someone a bit under the weather to wear a mask to keep everyone else healthy? If it is too much, please stay home.

You can wake up and smell the coffee. Not everyone did, but many had more time, whether from a reduced commute, a furlough or having another warm body at home to get stuff done.

One of the benefits of having a little, or a lot, more time is that you can take your time. You may find yourself noticing things you’ve missed before, or spending a little more time in quiet conversation, maybe even with your teenager who wouldn’t previously give you the time of day. Perhaps you’ve had a little more contemplative time, time to think freely. Maybe the urge to pick up an old, or new, hobby has struck.

Keep being more observant, thoughtful and mindful in 2021, and keep up those hobbies — everyone you love will thank you.

No worries about your resting bitch face. There’s no one to peek into your office, cubicle, or to pass you in the hall saying, Why so sad?, What’s wrong? or Cheer up! You can work in peace with your RBF intact. Beware though, even on the phone, people can tell if you’re smiling, or not. It’s nearly impossible to monitor your face on Zoom every minute, so you’re not completely safe there either. Most of the time, however, we can wander around in gym shorts or pjs and our RBFs. And when you’re out with your mask on, nobody knows.

You’re probably still coping well. Everyone is worried about COVID and anxiety is on the rise, but most people do not report increased mental health problems.

A lot of people, aware of the looming economic and health issues, don’t get caught up in them the way they used to spiral about things like, Why did I say that…now he thinks I’m an idiot. Those concerns about what everyone thinks of me and whether I’m good enough, have given way to: Who cares about one dumb comment I made, or, In the grand scheme of things, how important is this conversation? These are healthy cognitive changes. Try to notice these subtle ways you have been coping well and bring them into the new year.

Experiencing post-traumatic growth often means you find strengths you never knew you had, realize some of your interests are more important than you thought and your outlook on life is a little different. Maybe you have an altered sense of spirituality or gratitude.

See if you can take what’s good from this wild ride of 2020 and plan use it moving forward in 2021. You’ll be stronger, healthier and more resilient if you do.

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Judith Tutin, PhD

Judith Tutin, PhD

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Psychologist and life coach. Also, parent, writer, runner, yogini, healthnut, arts lover. Connect with me at www.drjudithtutin.com