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October 20, 2020

Pandemic Lessons

It seems odd and selfish to consider self-betterment when the world seems to be (at times, quite literally) burning down around us. Yet, our mental and physical well-being—and our resilience as individuals—depends on us prioritizing ourselves in times of hardship. Despite the challenges that a global pandemic brings, I found that there are some fairly simple ways to make this time something beneficial.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be one of the many workers who were moved to work-from-home in March and have continued largely working as normal; but as a recruiter, I’m painfully aware of the thousands nationwide who have not been so lucky. I frequently feel helpless to uplift those who don’t have the safety net my job has provided me, but I’m hoping that sharing what I have learned to do for myself throughout this pandemic can help those whom I can’t ordinarily reach.

  1. Quiet time is okay. At the start of the pandemic, I was staring down a full springtime calendar of career fairs, interviews, open positions, and conferences. That all came to a screeching halt mid-March when we entered a hiring freeze and sent to full-remote, and by the end of the first week of working from home I was twiddling my thumbs wondering what to do next. After impulse-cleaning my A/C filter and reorganizing my books for the third time, I realized quiet time is okay. In fact, the more I thought about just sitting and being quiet, the better it sounded. Whether you properly meditate or just stare out of a window for a few minutes and zone out, becoming comfortable with not being active was a challenging but hugely beneficial habit to get into.
  2. Self-care. I was never one to fuss over myself—I have a few basic looks and tools I know work for me, and I do them every day, ad nauseum. After the transition to work-from-home, it dawned on me that no one would be seeing me daily, so why put all this effort in to looking professional? Slowly I stopped straightening my hair and focused more on conditioning my exhausted curls. I stopped wearing makeup (except for interviews and video calls) and refocused my attention on blemish reduction and moisturizing. I took a bath for the first time in 5 years! These little shifts over time helped me feel more confident and relaxed.
  3. Movement is your friend. I realized a year ago that pacing my apartment while on phone calls was an excellent way to get steps in. Ever since that revelatory day, I now make a point to pace my apartment for at least 30 total minutes per day—whether I’m on the phone or not. On the weekends, I go to a local trail or quiet hiking spot and walk as far as my knees can tolerate (about 7 miles). My neighbors probably think I’m nuts, wandering my apartment aimlessly for minutes on end, but hey—I’ve lost 20 pounds and counting!
  4. Pets make excellent coworkers (usually). I have a cat who, when I adopted her, was affectionately described as “chatty.” Now I know that means “never stops meowing”—but her different meows and vocal demands have become a thing of legend among my coworkers, and now my cat is a team meeting staple. I also make a point of spending as much time with her as I can, even if she’s just sleeping on my lap while I type up yet another email. I’ve found immense joy in watching her play and facilitating that play. I also enjoy watching her fall off furniture and bump her head into solid surfaces, which she does with alarming yet hysterical frequency.
  5. Set boundaries. My most important note here is: setting boundaries with your work does not make you a bad employee. Personally, I have difficulty detaching myself from my job. My work requires a degree of 24/7 responsiveness, and it’s not uncommon for me to get evening calls and weekend texts. Since working from home, I’ve had to interview countless candidates from a desk set up in my bedroom—perhaps the ultimate work-home invasion. One simple way I started incorporating boundaries into my work life was to mimic arriving at and leaving the office via group messages. My team uses Microsoft Teams, so each morning I send a good morning message or GIF, and each evening I do the same (but obviously saying goodnight instead of good morning). By messaging my colleagues at the start and end of my workday, I’m signaling to them when I am available for interaction and when I am not. Even if it’s not always heeded, it helps me relax knowing that I have established a small, polite boundary between myself and my work responsibilities.
  6. Take stock of your inventory. And the inventory I’m referring to is food. Being at home all day, every day made me realize what I actually eat and what I don’t. It also helped me to become a bit more creative with what I eat, because rather than waste the odd things I decided to buy once upon a time, I’d rather learn to work with it. I also used my food stores as a way to treat myself. For a while, I was making one ready-mix baked good per week (scones from King Arthur Flour were particularly satisfying). To really take this to the next level, I started working with a registered dietician through my health insurance provider. My food stores have now had a glow-up of going from largely expired condiments and white pastas to a multitude of canned beans and fresh produce, courtesy of my local pandemic-friendly farm-to-table food delivery service.
  7. It’s okay to not be okay. I was perfectly content with being home by myself all day every day…until July. By the start of July, the realization that I hadn’t been able to spend proper time with my family or friends and the memory of spending my birthday completely alone really hit me. I would cry unbidden at random times. I had an awful time falling asleep, and when I did, I had vivid dreams. On nights where I could fall asleep easily, I woke up frequently. By September things began to normalize a little, but I was falling into brief yet intense depressive states. I started working with a Wellness Coach in June, and I’ve greatly appreciated being able to vent my fears and frustrations to her, and she helped me remember: it’s okay to not be okay. Everyone is struggling right now—some more than others—and it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed or depressed. Practicing gratitude is one simple way to start turning the tide on that feeling of doom and gloom; turning off the news doesn’t hurt, either.
  8. Marie Kondo knows best. In addition to my pantry, I also noticed that my closets and dresser drawers were full to the brim of things I didn’t always remember I had. So I took a page out of Marie Kondo’s metaphorical book (we don’t abuse actual books in this household) and began sifting through the masses of perfectly good yet perfectly unworn clothing. ThredUp is a great, quick way to shift a lot of clothes out in one go and make a little spare cash in the process. For those unafraid of a little extra work with the hope of more profit, Poshmark has been good to me—I’ve made $92 in just 2 days. Of course, there is a special satisfaction in donating your unwanted things to your local Salvation Army, Goodwill, or other local charity shop. And don’t forget to thank your clothes before sending them to their new homes!
  9. Not everything goes according to plan—and that’s okay. I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going to happen, when it will happen, and generally what to expect when it does. Calendar reminders are my best friend. If it’s not written down or calendared, it never existed. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that nothing we expected can be expected anymore. And with that, plans go out the window. Trying to plan anything these days feels like expecting every dart you throw to hit the bull’s eye. Unless you’re a marksman-genius or very lucky, it’s not going to happen. Learning to be patient and accept things as they come has perhaps been my greatest pandemic lesson. And to send that message home, I’m going to end my thoughts at 9 bullets instead of 10—because we can’t always have the satisfaction of a neat ending, either, and that’s okay, too.
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