This year was long. This year was hard. This year was sad. Yet it was full of life lessons.
Throughout the year, we shared with readers lots of ways to cope gracefully. They included creating rituals, learning to listen to loved ones, and practicing self-compassion in these unchartered waters. Here is a roundup. Here’s to a better 2021.
How to reset your routine
During the first days of the coronavirus, I wore my pajamas well into the afternoon and alternated between writing on my couch and watching Netflix on said couch. It didn’t take long to realize I had to rethink my routine. (Yet, I still hit the COVID-19 wall.) The first order of business: Reflect and let go of the things that don’t bring joy. And here’s another one that’s proved useful:
Don’t just take breaks, schedule them.
It’s important to take breaks. “This is a time for us to create new work rituals,” said Natalie Nixon, a Philadelphia creativity strategist, president of Figure 8 Thinking, and author of Strategic Design Thinking: Innovation in Products Services and Beyond. Maybe you stop and do 20 jumping jacks. Perhaps you walk to the kitchen for a snack. Or skim a magazine you have yet to get to. Nixon likes to work in 40-minute spurts, followed by a 5- to 10-minute break. The key, Nixon says, is to walk away from the work area and stretch those legs.
And give yourself permission to let your mind wander. “Our most creative ideas come when we let our minds go,” Nixon said. Also, make sure you exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day, says Patrick Porter, author of Thrive in Overdrive: How To Navigate Your Overloaded Lifestyle and CEO of BrainTap, a North Carolina-based company that marries technology with wellness.
How to live without touch
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic meant an end to high-fiving strangers and hugging the ones we loved. This loss left many of us — especially those of us who live alone — feeling anxious and melancholy because we could no longer rely on our most natural ways to cope with anxiety: taking comfort in human touch. Experts advised getting a pet, snuggling under a warm blanket and taking up yoga, because poses like the eagle pose are self hugs. And then there’s this one:
Get out the stuffed animals.
Young children love stuffed animals because they are soft, squishy, and comforting, said Melissa Hunt, a clinical psychologist and associate director in the department of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. “That tactile feeling is assuring to little ones,” Hunt said. If you gave away all of your stuffed animals in a Marie Kondo moment, curl up on your couch with a throw pillow while binge-watching television. Miss the beau you don’t live with? Sleep next to a life-size pillow, says Philadelphia-based psychologist Marquita Williams. “Having something to hold will calm down your nighttime anxiety,” she said. “It’s what I do.” It may seem weird, she says, but it works.
How to cope with racial inequities — especially if you’re Black
George Floyd’s violent death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin sparked peaceful protests and rage across America. Black people weren’t surprised. We live with systemic racism every day. But white America was shocked and wanted advice on how to deal. In the midst of coping with our own feelings of fear, Black folks were expected to lead efforts of racial reckoning while remaining strong in our own families. Not fair, mental experts stressed. Black people have the right to put our own mental health first. I found this tip helpful:
Don’t apologize for being angry.
“(Black people) are taught from an early age that not only will we be subjected to racism, bias acts and police brutality, but that we should get used to it,” said Richard Orbé-Austin, a New York-based psychologist and Black man. “We are socialized to recognize that we have to tolerate being uncomfortable. That means swallowing our anger for our survival. Allies: Remind your white friends and family of the reasons behind the protests. “When you point to the looting, you are in your own way discounting the rage because you are making it more about the looting than centuries of oppression,” said Ebony White, an assistant clinical professor of counseling and family therapy at Drexel University. A better question to ask is: How did we get here?
How to organize your closet
Thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown, our wardrobes morphed from chic to cozy overnight. What to do when your relationship with your clothes changes? We talked to experts who provided coronavirus-friendly advice on how to sort through your pieces and how to donate safely. And maybe, just maybe, we will emerge from quarantine with a new look.
Sort your clothes.
This is an excellent time to reevaluate all of your clothes, says Joey Clark, owner of Center City boutique and closet-editing service Kin Boutique. Sort your clothes into three categories: keep, maybe, and give away. Ask yourself: Do I love it? Does it still fit? Does it make me feel good? If it’s yes to all three questions, keep it. If it’s yes to two questions, maybe. If it’s yes to one question, give it away.
How to stop anger from turning to rage
It was a year of sadness, but it was a year of palpable anger, too. Anger is OK, because it motivates us to make change. But rage is another story and is the doorway to mental unrest and overall bad health. One way to stop anger in its tracks, experts say, is to remain conscious. Here’s a first step to avoid the raging waters.
Identify the feeling.
When your feelings of discontent start to bubble, call it what it is. Don’t stuff it deep down and pretend like it’s not there. This is probably the most important step, said Carrie Rowan, the Boston-based author of Tell a New Story: 5 Simple Steps to Release Your Negative Thoughts and Bring Joy to Your Life. You can’t fix a problem you won’t admit to yourself that you have, Rowan said.
How to be heard
Our cut-off culture got a fresh side-eye thanks to the presidential and vice-presidential candidates’ nonstop talk-overs during the debates. It was so bad, it bordered on cringe-worthy. And that’s not all. Even our own conversations — on Zoom and with colleagues — were riddled with butt-ins. We talked to communications experts who shared their advice on how to stop interrupting and what to do when we keep getting stopped mid-sentence.
Flag it when someone interrupts you.
Terri Boyer, director of the Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership at Villanova University, says that we — especially women who are routinely cut off mid-conversation by men — need to nip these interruptions in the bud ASAP. Why? Because often, the offending man doesn’t even realize what he’s doing or that this is a show of power. A 2014 study by George Washington University found men were 33 percent more likely to interrupt another woman than they would a man. When this happens, Boyer said, call it out in the moment. Try this: “I notice you are anxious to interject. My request is that you let me finish my thought so that I don’t lose it and then you will have a chance to speak.”
When to mind our own business
COVID-19 lockdown should have reminded us all how our actions impact each other. Yet when is it prudent to speak up? Should you turn in your friendly neighborhood butcher if his mask only covers his mouth? Probably so. What if you witness someone shoplifting at the self-checkout? If getting involved causes more harm than good, you might want to rethink the need to tattle.
Ask yourself: Are you sure you understand what’s happening?
Because we have such high anxiety about COVID-19, it’s tempting to try to control what we can about other people’s behavior. So we feel justified minding people’s business, explained Sukaina Hirji , a philosophy professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who studies ancient philosophy and contemporary ethics. “The problem is that we often don’t know the whole situation.” Ask yourself: Why do you need to be in control? Is your mission just — are you truly concerned about safety and the safety of others — or do you just want to be seen? Do you want to be right?
How to forgive
The presidential election divided our nation even further in 2020, to say nothing of our personal relationships. Yet unless we want to sit alone by ourselves in cranky self-righteousness, we need to find a way to at least try to talk to our in-laws again. Experts said it takes honesty, transparency, and forgiveness. The most important step: being honest with ourselves. Though it’s worth remembering that we can choose to get past that which divides us:
Choose to forgive.
And it doesn’t have to be today. But remember, said Sydney Spears, a clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and adjunct professor at the University of Kansas, we can be angry at someone forever, or we can decide to let it go. There is no timetable. “We have to practice forgiveness not just for our sake, but for theirs,” Spears said. But forgiving doesn’t mean stop fighting for the things we believe in or keep it a secret, Spears said. Just as you have to accept them, they should accept you, too. “The more we are able to stand in our truth, the more we are able to respect others’ differences and the less we will feel threatened.”
How to spark creativity
The endless hours at home certainly don’t help our creative process flow. In fact, many people say, it’s killing it. So we asked local artists how they are channeling their creative energy during the pandemic. Everyone interviewed went months without making anything. However, the moment they decided to stop focusing on fear of the unknown, they got out of their ruts and got creative again. I particularly liked this tip, from fashion illustrator Denise Fike:
Make your space beautiful.
“Every morning I spent a few hours painting and placing copper leaves on the wall behind my stairwell. I had no idea what I was doing (or) where it was going. What I was painting. I got lost in it. I drew and drew and drew for my own pleasure. And I covered the wall. My husband thought I was completely nuts. But by making something beautiful for myself I was able to work on sketches for others.” — Denise Fike, fashion illustrator
©2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.