The last year has been like none the world has ever experienced in my lifetime and it has certainly been a time of huge change, mental and physical readjustment with many challenges along the way. For me, a move to a new country, culture, and way of being has made life very colourful despite COVID restrictions, but like millions of us around the world, I have been apart from those I care about, with no way to travel and only seeing my loved ones on Zoom or video chats.
A new kind of normal
COVID caused and in some places is very sadly still causing, separation from family and friends and a lack of any kind of social contact. Even though life for many of us is beginning to look like it did before, nothing is the same as it was. So many people have suffered huge hardships, anxiety, loneliness, and loss. In Israel, where I now live, COVID is almost gone, and life is almost back to what we might think as ‘normal’. Except it isn’t the normal we knew before. I am watching the joy of people hugging parents, children, and friends again. There is an atmosphere of relief, appreciation, and a strong sense of zest for life and making the most of the moment.
Larissa Meijer and colleagues’ (2021) recent study showed that touch-starved people rate touch more highly than usual, even when only viewing touch on video. Nothing makes up for hugging our friends and family. Touch and connection to others are imperative for human wellbeing and before the pandemic, we may have taken hugging our friends, children, and extended family for granted. I know I wasn’t alone on rating hugs as one of the things I missed most during lockdown, and it is wonderful to see and experience human contact happening. again, outside of cyberspace.
Managing life in lockdown
Weeks of enforced aloneness provided me with a chance to reflect on many things, but then I did not have to manage a young family and juggling a job. Yet those who did have to juggle demonstrated incredible creativity, adaptability, and resilience. Many of us worked from home at least some of the time during the lengthy lockdowns of the pandemic, so boundaries became blurred between work time and family/social time. Mariana Toniolo-Barrios and Leyland Pitt’s (2021) recent study found that it is harder to say no to the extra tasks, when you are not commuting, and you are working from your bedroom, lounge, or kitchen table. Work/life balance, a valuable commodity even before the pandemic, for many of us, ceased to exist.
The side effects of solitude
Simultaneously, the pressure of what to do socially, having to dress up and show up, meant a welcome break for many, from meeting both our own expectations and those of others. My move abroad meant that lockdowns were incredibly challenging and as a usually sociable person, I was grateful to work in an industry where I at least got to see my work colleagues. I managed to enjoy my own company by staying connected online and working, but many peoples’ mental health suffered greatly, as a result of being confined. Solitude leaves us with fewer options to distract ourselves from difficult feelings. It will take time for people to recover from what has been an incredibly challenging period.
Moving mindfully forward
As we have come back to the rhythm of life we were used to pre-COVID, I am even more grateful for the pleasure of appreciating what you can see, when you can only walk a little way from your house or look out of the window. I am grateful for understanding that it is OK to stop and just be. Experiencing companionship, friendship, family, and connectedness again in person has given us an opportunity to become more focused on what we want to reintroduce into our lives. Things which were taken for granted, as part of the everyday act of living, have become noticeable and alongside the devastation of the virus, many experienced a renewed sense of awe and gratitude for the simplest of pleasures. Whereas before, we may just have walked on and ignored these everyday sources of beauty, whilst wrapped up in our thoughts or ‘busy-ness’, a flower, the greenness of grass against a blue sky, a butterfly, birdsong or the warmth of the sun became focal points.
I hope we can hang on to the knowledge of what we lost and value what we have had returned to us. If we can remain mindful of what we missed, maybe the gratitude and joy of having our lives back can help us to build a more meaningful future, where we make the space for what really matters, appreciate the small things and make the most of our gift of life.
Meijer, L. L., Hasenack, B., Kamps, J., Mahon, A., Titone, G., Dijkerman, H. C., & Keizer, A. (2021). Out of
touch: Touch deprivation and affective touch perception during the COVID-19
pandemic. PsyArXiv. June, 8.
Toniolo-Barrios, M., & Pitt, L. (2021). Mindfulness and the challenges of working from home in times of
crisis. Business Horizons, 64(2), 189-197.
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