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What Does Wellness Mean During the Pandemic?

By: Jennifer Klein, LPC, NCC, NBC-HWC

wood plank pathway that meanders through a forest

January 4, 2021

If you’re reading this, you have survived 2020 and that in and of itself is a reason to be proud of yourself. Without a doubt, 2020 was a difficult year filled with sadness, fear, anxiety, and so many other emotions brought about by so many different sources. Dealing with that, many of us have been isolated adding to the despair we may have felt because we were missing the “old days” of pre-Covid life.

It is important to recognize that just making it through is an accomplishment! Continuing to survive is ultimately the best that we may be able to do. It is normal to continue to grieve for what we have lost in this pandemic. However, the dawn of this new year is also an opportunity to begin to shift our gaze forward, grounded with a sense of hope.

The reality is that some of the limitations and different ways of living that were brought about in 2020 will need to continue into this new year. For me, the unknown of if or when we will be able to return to “normal” has been one of the hardest parts of coping with the pandemic. While it may seem like there is so much more out of our control right now, that has always been true despite how much we may like to think we are fully in control! Ultimately the only thing that is ever really under our control is how we respond to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.– Viktor Frankl

As we look ahead in 2021, we have an opportunity to reconsider how we manage the great unknown of this pandemic, as well as all the other uncertainties we deal with in our daily lives. I encourage you to think a little differently about what wellness could look like for you as we embark on this new year. In contrast to year’s past, where resolutions may have commonly focused on “doing” or completing goals, I encourage you to think about resolving to find ways to have a greater sense of “being” in your life. Below are some helpful tips to consider while making changes to improve your sense of well-being in 2021:

1) Prioritizing yourself isn’t just for airplanes – Many of us ignore the speech on planes that tells us to be sure to place the air masks on ourselves before we try to help those beside us. However, that message can be a helpful reminder for us in our daily lives. In our society, it is often frowned upon to spend time on ourselves. But now more than ever, we need to be intentional and consistent in taking care of ourselves so that we are better able to manage all that may come our way.

2) Wellness isn’t only about diet and exercise – These are the foundations of wellness and they cannot be totally overlooked. But you may recognize some initial feelings of resistance when considering changes in these areas because of how difficult it can be, as well as their connection to a lot of stigma in our American society. For mental health, consider wellness in terms of what may bring you a sense of joy or peace and doing something on a consistent basis to bring about those positive feelings. Improvement in our mental health can sometimes end up bringing about positive changes in our physical health in an indirect way.

3) Start small – This goes for both the scope of changes we may want to make, as well as the length of time we commit. It is natural to have big ideas and set big goals. But the reality is that more sustainable change is built through confidence gained in our ability to accomplish small steps on a consistent basis. This is not to say you shouldn’t set an inspirational goal, but rather to break it down to small steps that put you on the path towards that larger goal. For example, if you’re interested in meditation, starting with 20-30 minutes may be too difficult and lead to your decreased interest in that activity. Remember that even committing 5 minutes a day to “you” time can have a positive effect on our sense of well-being.

4) Add rather than subtract – We are wired to resist things that we feel may deprive us of something. So often resolutions are focused on stopping doing things that are “bad” for us. However, those “bad” habits are often providing us with a benefit of some kind. Therefore, eliminating those habits entirely right away is harder to sustain over time. Instead, think about what you can add into your life! It is no surprise that we’re all dealing with a high amount of stress, and relaxing is easier said than done. What other unexpected ways can provide stress relief? Consider adding the action of “play” that has no purpose. As adults we have often outgrown our connection to play, but playing with our pets or allowing ourselves to turn up the music and dance around a room can shift our mood and indirectly help relieve some of the impacts of stress.

5) Practice informal mindfulness – A mindful mindset can be brought into anything you do. Many people think of it in terms of formal seated meditation. However, at its most basic level, mindfulness is about building our capacity to redirect our attention away from whatever thoughts may arise. It is important to remember that it’s not about stopping thoughts, which is impossible! I have recently discovered paint by numbers and was surprised to realize how much of a mindfulness practice it can be. Anything like this that involves focus and tactile aspects like touch can help to quiet your anxious thoughts while doing the activity as well as generate a sense of accomplishment when the project is completed.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. – Theodore Roosevelt