The pandemic of 2020 has brought great suffering into the world. It also has provided us the opportunity to re-calibrate our lives. It has forced all of us to slow down, reprioritize, adjust and correct our courses.

               I feel mildly guilty that the Coronavirus pandemic and the attendant shutdowns and quarantining changed some things for the better for me. I had more time to exercise. A friend and I decided to exercise together every day on Zoom. There are so many good, free online exercise videos today, of all types. We mix it up with yoga, barre, Pilates, tae bo and more. Had my friend not been waiting for me online each morning, I know I would have stayed in bed longer for most of them. Just before this regimen began, I was staying in bed until late morning, tossing, turning and worrying.

               My exercise buddy and I agreed each morning to check in with how we were feeling, and to share our gratitude lists and a few affirmations. This daily appointment staved off my sense of isolation.

               Cultivating an attitude of gratitude to start my day filled my reserves for whatever challenging came my way. And there is always something for which to feel grateful. The fact that I can see, hear or use any of my senses is cause for gratitude. I give thanks that my body is working. My adult children are safe in their respective cities of choice. My daily gratitude lists include both the profound and the mundane.

               I used to think affirmations were silly. But if I say positive things about myself enough times, it starts to stick in my psyche. More often than not, my affirmations include, “I am enough,” “I am content,” “I approve of myself,” or some variation of those sentiments. Because of our brain’s neuroplasticity, we can strengthen new neural pathways by feeding our brains repetitive thoughts. I choose now to feed my mind with as much positivity as possible. And when negative thoughts invaded my mind, I would silently sing, “Hit the road, Jack….”

               I signed up for an online positive psychology class. The class taught me some helpful new resiliency skills. I learned self-soothing practices, like havening.  I listened to positive podcasts, TedTalks and free online self-improvement presentations. Happiness apps were less effective for me, but they may work for others.

               I meditated more, especially via walking meditation. I took slow walks in wooded areas, paying more attention to nature’s beauty.  I became mindful throughout my day, sometimes saying to myself, “I’m back,” when I realized I was not present and wanted to return to a state of awareness. Focusing on my breath keeps me more present. I used to pride myself on my multitasking ability. Now I realize it detracts from whatever I am doing because I am not allowing myself to be fully present.

               I made more time to read for pleasure, and avoided dark books. Transporting myself to another land and becoming engrossed in a well-crafted story was therapeutic. I limited my time on broadcast news and any encounters with negative people. This is one type of necessary self-care for me.

               I took time to learn some new skills. Learning how to use Zoom, Skype and Google’s meeting function helped me maintain contact with the outside world. I organized a weekly Zoom call with three of my closest friends who live on opposite coasts. I even learned how to do PowerPoint presentations that enhanced my online workshops.

               I saved money by not going out or ordering out and resisting online shopping. With more money in the bank, I started to dream of future trips and searched online for new destinations to explore when travel becomes safe again.

               I consciously savored anything good. If something tasted particularly yummy, I ate it slowly and tried fully to appreciate it. If something happened during the day that was positive or enjoyable, I slowed down and consciously thought about it. Sometimes, I journaled about it, so I could remember it more readily later. It is easy to dwell on negative things, yet I realized there is so much to appreciate and savor each day.

               I forgave myself and let more things go. I stopped comparing myself to all those on social media who were organizing furiously and getting so much done. I changed my inner dialogue and tried to treat myself as someone dear to me, like I would treat my best friend, mom or child.

               The cumulation of these healthy new practices lifted my spirit and enabled me to start a new, lighter chapter. I can say with certainty that 2020 provided me with growth opportunities, and allowed me to fill my spiritual bank to provide ballast from the storms of life. May we all emerge from this pandemic as better versions of ourselves, with stronger coping skills, acceptance and adaptability.


  • Maria Leonard Olsen

    Maria Leonard Olsen is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney and author of “50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life” (Rowman & Littlefield, June 2018).

    Maria Leonard Olsen graduated from Boston College and the University of Virginia School of Law. She is an attorney, radio talk show host of the Washington, D.C. show “Inside Out,” writing and women's empowerment retreat instructor, editor, and public speaker on diversity issues and living a life authentic to one's values. Her work has been published by The Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, Bethesda Magazine, among others. She also served in the Clinton Justice Department prior to having children, and recently returned to practicing law now that she is an empty-nester. Olsen is the author of four books, including the children’s books Mommy, Why's Your Skin So Brown? and Healing for Hallie, and the non-fiction titles Not the Cleaver Family--The New Normal in Modern American Families and her newest book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life.