Most mental health experts will tell you that generating a list of positives can help reframe your response to a situation and lift your mood. “Count your blessings” is a popular saying, song lyric, and commonly held belief. The other day, I started to contemplate a few positive things that came about during the pandemic; some I believe will persist, others will change as we move towards a more normal way of life. Still, I thought it might be useful as a mental exercise to list them all off.
- A pause in the busyness and stress of having an overscheduled calendar. Early on, with no choir rehearsals, no concerts, sporting events and so on, there was so much more ample free time that I almost miss it now! Having extra time to read books, watch movies, and play board games with the kids is a fond memory, actually, of the early days of the pandemic. And during the holiday season of 2021, when everything was “back” in full force—the cookie parties, the gift exchange, Christmas programs and so on—it reminded me how the simpler times tended to be much less stressful.
- The virtual 7 am meeting. With doctor’s schedules, many of my monthly committee meetings are held at 7 am before clinic potentially starts at 8 am. I used to dread getting up that early and driving in to work, in particular during the dark cold days of winter. But lately, any 7 am meeting I’ve been asked to attend, I am usually sitting in front of Zoom in my pajamas with a business casual cardigan jacket layered on top, sipping coffee. Who knew that there would come a day when I would attend a meeting with my Department Chair in my pajamas? In a pinch I can also tune into a meeting using my phone in the car, combining commute with committee work, a real time saver.
- The almost nonexistent rush hour, for at least the first year plus, and even now it’s nothing like it used to be. Along a similar vein, with many people working from home, I never have trouble finding a parking spot in my Washington Avenue ramp, even if I come in later than usual.
- Virtual patient care. Although it’s not ideal for every purpose, I have spent nearly two years figuring out what types of patient visits can be best accomplished in the virtual format, and it’s finally working quite well. My patients appreciate having this option, as it saves them travel time and expense. On my end, I can perform these virtual visits anywhere, so I am not constrained by the time and space limitations of the clinic exam room. We’ve had this technology available for a long time, but it took a global pandemic to bring it to full fruition in medicine.
- Limited choices. Psychologists will tell you, surprisingly, that having too many choices (in entertainment, where to travel, what furniture to buy, you name it) actually creates more mental stress than having fewer options. When my beverage fridge died mid pandemic, to replace it–given supply chain limitations–I basically had to choose between two models, much easier than ten or more. I’ve also noticed the same thing with restaurants; some of our local favorites are still closed certain days of the week, or open for dinner only and not lunch. It narrows the choices pretty quickly and might, in a way, reduce the stress of making a decision.
- A focus on what’s truly meaningful. Early on, I honestly was a bit fearful for my own health or my loved ones or family getting sick, and it quickly helped focus my priorities onto what is most important. That included how I spend my time, what relationships I chose to maintain and how, and even how to gather for important events such as holidays and birthdays. Focusing on what’s meaningful also meant it was easier to let go of things that were not truly high yield. I found myself saying “no” when needed, and feeling less guilt over it.
- Renewed focus on wellness, especially when it came to health care workers. Nobody can deny that burnout was on the rise in doctors and nurses even prior to covid. But the pandemic caused the general public, and also health system leadership, to recognize their contributions and put into place real time strategies to help preserve the mental health of its workers. Some concrete examples: a $1500 wellness bonus which I used to purchase a new exercise bike; the shortening of all standing meetings to 45 minutes instead of one hour; avoiding scheduling late day meetings particularly on Friday afternoons. In addition, the University added two additional personal holidays and continues to embrace the option of working from home; when feasible, this can save time and energy we can use elsewhere.
- Ability to connect across the miles. My family likes to play bridge, and the online version via Trickster Cards has allowed us to play once a week despite the fact that we live in different parts of the state. Not only has my bridge game improved with more frequent play but our ability to stay connected and share stories about our week has been a game changer—no pun intended. I am honestly not sure that would have come about without the pandemic prompting us to find new ways to connect.
- Not spending is the new saving. Many of us probably noticed that with less spending—fewer meals out, less travel and so on—our bank accounts benefited from this situation in new ways. In fact, economists argue that this was part of the reason behind the “Great Resignation” which caused people to leave their jobs or change career paths altogether. Even if worker shortages could be viewed as a negative thing, having the ability to reconsider one’s work environment as the result of less spending is very empowering.
- Random acts of kindness. During spring through fall of 2020, I was running outside almost every day due to the fact that my gym was closed (and I’d prefer to run outside, this time of year, anyway). I noticed that people who were out and about, walking their dogs or just getting a little exercise, were so much more friendly and talkative—likely in part due to the isolation we were all feeling. I recall an older man stopping to talk to me about spotting a woodpecker on top of a light pole on Hoyt, pointing it out; I paused my run, and the two of us chatted about this bird, the interesting sounds it made, the warm weather, and several other topics before heading our separate ways. The same thing happened when on a bike ride with my daughter and a man stopped to assist us with her bike, which was having trouble shifting gears. He went on to tell the story of his biking experiences and also working at a bike repair shop in our neighborhood for many years. Complete strangers, stopping to help, or just have a chat and exchange pleasantries because—well— we could, and we needed it. How I wish to see more of that in our everyday lives!
So here is a “top 10” list, if you will, of things I will miss about the pandemic. Sounds almost strange to say that, but I believe others may have experienced this as well. I wonder if you, dear reader, have anything to add to the list? I’d love to hear from you! And let’s hope and pray that these positive things carry forward, even after the pandemic winds down, and that we don’t forget to count our blessings in every situation.