As the end of the year approaches, and I get myself ready to meet my friends on Zoom and fill out the Year Compass, I thought I’d also take a little bit of time to write a blog post reflecting on what I’ll be taking away from the last twelve months. A global pandemic was always going to make for a challenging year, but this one has been a rollercoaster in ways that many of us couldn’t have anticipated. Even if we made it this far with our physical health intact and all our loved ones safe and well, our mental health has taken a big hit because many of the things that brought us joy were cancelled. So, what did I learn from all this?
Make the most of every moment. Back in January 2020, I undertook a little exercise in my Instagram stories (now highlighted on my profile as 45 Things) where I took note of one happy thing for every year of my life, starting on my birthday. Lots of these things could have been taken for granted, but I’m glad I didn’t as many of them are even more rare now. I’m glad I went for dinner and beers with friends, socialised with new colleagues, went to a book launch, enjoyed the views at Somerset House, went to a birthday party, attended several public lectures, and appreciated the bustle of central London. Since March I have had lots to appreciate too, even if that has been a little different to what came before, and I’ll definitely continue to take joy in the little things.
It’s fine to slow down. I don’t know about you, but I spent a fair bit of time in March and April worried that I wasn’t doing enough. Thinking that I should have been using my time better, doing more reading, starting more projects, or getting fitter. But it’s absolutely fine that I didn’t. We were all readjusting to a new life indoors and coming to terms with what this might mean for the future, so it’s completely understandable that just doing that was exhausting enough. For me, taking a break from the constant London cycle of commuting and weekday evening socialising has been restorative, and I still managed to read 31 books even though my concentration has been shot for most of the year. (I’m a slow reader, so that’s pretty good going.)
People don’t have to be nearby to be close. As someone who is very tactile, it’s been strange to spend most of the year unable to hug most of my friends, but I’ve found new ways to reach out to and be with the people I care about. Spending time with friends via a video call or a socially distanced walk in the park has resulted in a lot more of the type of conversations that I love, plus I’ve also learnt that it’s perfectly possible to have wonderfully tipsy date nights via a laptop screen too. I realise that these new ways of socialising might not work for everyone, and I really am looking forward to making up for lost time when it’s safe to do so, but I have to say that I do still feel very close to all the people I care about, despite the distance.
It’s OK not to be productive all the time. Once I’d got over the guilt that comes with “doing nothing”, taking things easy actually became really refreshing. Not desperately trying to be or appear to be productive every single minute of the working day meant that I was actually more focused when I put music on and put my head down to get something done. Of course, Spotify had to shame me about the repeated listens to Tron: Legacy Reconfigured in my 2020 round-up, but it’s been my go-to concentration music this year and… it works! Giving my brain more time to ponder and process things has been a real help this year.
Clothes can help your wellbeing. OK, so I have to admit that I did already know this one, but 2020 has been a big reminder for me and has also shown a lot of people who may not have already realised it. Those who started lockdown taking joy in only doing the bare minimum to look respectable in Teams meetings, slowly started to realise that making an effort to wear something they like can cheer them up too. After my talk in April where I asked “Do we need to get dressed during lockdown?“, a colleague emailed me the following day to say that she’d been inspired to put on a bit of leopard print and it had really lifted her mood. I’ve spent most of the festive break poorly, but am celebrating feeling better today by dressing up a bit and putting make-up on.
Taking time to reset is important. This year, we haven’t always been able to take the breaks from our routine that we wanted, but have found other ways to reset our brains and restore our mental health. A change of scenery, however small, can be all that’s needed to help us keep going for another few days. I’ve really noticed that over the last week while I’ve been isolating – usually I spend the festive break going nowhere because I’ve spent the rest of the year travelling at least a few miles away from my home every day, but I’ve spent most of this year at home so all I want to do now is go outside. I don’t care that nowhere is open (Tier 4 “joy”), I just want to go for a walk in the fresh air and see something other than these four walls. A change of scenery is a very important thing indeed.
Social media can be a force for good. Of course, this is only the case if you take care in the ways that you use it. It’s important to focus on the platforms that leave you feeling energised rather than drained (which is why I’m hardly ever on Facebook these days), to carefully curate your feed (unfollow or mute anyone whose posts are causing anguish), and to make a little time to interact with your online community. I love giving and receiving comments on Instagram, contributing to Twitter conversation threads, and joining in with daft memes as it brings me a lot of joy. On Christmas Day, when I was feeling very low due to illness and cancelled plans, I reached out to my “pocket friends” and asked for festive pets and cute gifs to cheer me up. I can highly recommend this strategy if you need to find your smile again!
All in all, 2020 has been a bit of a dumpster fire of a year, but I know that I have a lot to be grateful for. I’m going to make sure I hold on to all of this, to get me through the rest of the winter months and back into the sunshine again. Let’s hope that things are looking much brighter this time next year.