(CNN) — There is no doubt that the covid-19 pandemic has been harsh. It turned our world upside down. It disrupted our routines, forced us to stay home, made us face the fragility of life, and pushed us beyond the limits of our comfort zone.
But, amid our collective fear and suffering, there were some rays of hope. We learned to be kind and to take care of our neighbors; we slow down; parents spent more time with their children, in person and at the Zoom.
Also, we focused more on our physical and mental health, and we learned to appreciate the smaller things that we used to take for granted. We show ourselves how resilient we are and treat each other with compassion.
While America is rushing to “get back to normal”, there are some lessons learned from our time of confinement that we should preserve, and even take advantage of, to create a new normal better than the previous one.
Here are five ways the pandemic can improve the way we live.
Keeping family closer and working more flexibly after the pandemic
Staying home with children or teenagers and combining it with work was a nightmare for many, as offices and schools suddenly closed overnight.
But little by little – and not necessarily by choice – work schedules became more flexible as parents scheduled meetings around virtual classes and their children’s meal times.
Meetings with children through Zoom became the rule, work calls were encouraged during field trips, and we stopped trying to be perfect for being human.
Most importantly, families who were physically together spent much more time with each other, reminding us of how precious those relationships are.
For those who were separated from loved ones, “family” took on a new meaning, with friends, neighbors or strangers in their community forming sacred bubbles in pandemic.
Even families miles away spent more time in front of the screen, in order to know how they were doing and celebrate milestones virtually.
The word “office” came to mean a bedroom, a closet, an outdoor café, or (for the more fortunate) a lounge chair by the pool.
However, we realized that we could be effective and productive by making “work” fit our circumstances rather than tailoring our lives to fit a corporate mold.
And, as our outlook on work expanded, it allowed life in all its beauty and horror to teach us to live a fuller and more fulfilling existence.
Focus more on mental health
The pandemic affected us individually in different ways. There was no guide on how to overcome it, but collectively there was a shift towards self-care, to give us space and patience with our vulnerability in order to work through it.
For some, it was about keeping a journal, others took daily walks or long bubble baths. Self-care was no longer considered a whim, but a necessity to keep going.
We had honest conversations with people and set limits to prioritize our mental health: seek help, cry, dance, scream or laugh for no reason, almost nothing was out of place as long as it helped us.
That focus on our mental health allowed us to grow, get to know each other better, face buried demons or forgotten dreams, and work on self-improvement.
«We do not have a vaccine for our mental health as we do for our physical health“Lisa Carlson, former president of the American Public Health Association and executive administrator of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, told CNN.
“I really hope that, above all, this is the moment when we break down the barriers to talking about mental health, because I think the most important thing we can do – as professionals and in our families and communities – is to talk about it.” Carlson added.
Embrace the ability to adapt
Confinement forced us to try new ways of doing things. It was not easy, but the impossible became possible and many of us now have a stronger perspective of our capabilities.
Forced to be out of work, many learned new skills. Chefs started selling directly to the consumer on Instagram. Others completely changed their profession, such as the French actor Richaud Valls who became a baker. His attempts to recreate a baguette from his childhood home in Paris revealed a passion for baking that has now led to a full-time business.
With gyms closed, we embrace more antiquated ways of exercising, like running, biking, or walking. We signed up for virtual trainings which, in turn, opened them up to a new and wider audience.
And, from doctor’s appointments to weddings to worship and concerts, everyone learned to use Zoom, which happened a lot. surprising things in the last year.
Above all, we were proven resilient, and we hope that the darkest days of the pandemic are behind us.
Do you remember the global applause at 7pm to our healthcare workers? Remember how grateful we are for any random act of kindness, from a stranger’s smile to a ray of sunshine?
The bleakness of the pandemic and universal suffering helped us see the good things that happened in a new light. We appreciate what we have so often taken for granted. The spontaneous performances they filled us with joy, leaving home for a walk was a moment to appreciate. The smallest victories became a cause for celebration.
We focus on others, asking how they were doing, buying food for the most vulnerable that they couldn’t risk exposing themselves. Communities came together to share essential food and supplies. We feel like we are in this together with covid-19 as a common enemy.
And yet, while in the United States we begin to turn the page, all over the world there are many countries that continue to suffer. They are not coming close to the US in overcoming the pandemic. Similarly, not everyone has the luxury of a hybrid work model; many remain unemployed, or paralyzed by fear or anguish.
Realizing how lucky some of us are and being thankful for it is an important way of thinking for recovery. Those of us who have that privilege must remember that our good fortune is an opportunity to lift others up.
Improve the planet
It was one of the videos that went viral during the first confinement of 2020: a dolphin swimming near the surface in what was supposedly a Venetian canal. It was false, of course: it turned out to have been recorded near the port of Cagliari, on the island of Sardinia. But the real news is that Earth’s health has improved this past year.
The decrease in carbon emissions worldwide, when flights and our daily trips were canceled, led to an improvement in air quality in more than 80% of the countries of the world.
The World Air Quality Report 2020 IQAir said that human-related emissions from industry and transportation fell during lockdowns, and 65% of global cities surveyed experienced better air quality in 2020 compared to 2019. About 84% of cities Survey nations reported improvements in air quality overall.
Even when we do venture out, we walk more or ride a bike instead of taking the car or public transportation. We buy less and have less waste overall, as most people work from home.
Nothing will ever be exactly the same as before, but it is an opportunity
While these trends may soon change as the travel safe again, the pandemic showed us that work meetings or conferences can still be effective at a distance.
Businesses survived and some even thrived with a remote workforce. That time that is not dedicated to traveling was translated into an opportunity to do other things or not to be separated from our loved ones for days. And the advantage of this is that it also helped our planet.
Ultimately, life will never be exactly the same. There has been enormous loss of life and suffering around the world and that impact will be felt for years. But for those lucky enough to start getting back to “normal,” this is an opportunity to collectively redefine what that means.
As Maya Angelou once said, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”