It’s no surprise that adapting to our new socially distanced reality has taken an emotional toll on millions of Americans. According to a study published in March in The Lancet, previous quarantines have resulted in long lasting mental health issues such as stress, anger, confusion and even post-traumatic stress symptoms. While we may not be able to control when life will return to “normal” as we continue to navigate how to socially interact in a post-COVID-19 world, we can choose to have a positive outlook and take a mindful approach to how we manage stress in our lives, which will have a marked impact on our mental health and well-being.

Life during the coronavirus pandemic is filled with uncertainty. Tens of millions of Americans are out of work. Front-line workers continue to put their health at risk every day to save lives and keep our economy going. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to work from home, we must juggle the demands of staying productive in our jobs, supervising our kids during online education, and maintaining some semblance of work-life balance. Regardless of the stressors around us, we can actively choose to take a step back and approach life in a simpler manner. 

Rather than dwelling on the complexities and stresses of life, it is important to take some quiet time every day – away from your work email, cell phone and social media – to read, spend time with your family, exercise, meditate or simply be one with nature. 

Juggling family, friends, health and work is not easy, but by making conscious choices in your life, you can learn to achieve some balance. 

In my own personal life, I have to make the conscious decision to put the phone away when I am interacting with my family to avoid getting distracted, and I make a conscious effort to read or listen to an audio book or explore a new hobby instead of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Twitter. 

Workwise, while traditional office happy hours may be on hold right now because of the pandemic, there can also be implicit pressure to attend virtual happy hours. While they can be great for camaraderie and team building, know that it is also ok to decline these invitations once in a while and choose to do yoga instead. 

According to a study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, yoga has the ability to reduce stress and anxiety and improve autonomic functions. Now, more than ever, it’s important to take time for yourself and move your body. And even after the pandemic is over, don’t be afraid to say no. Leave extra room for yourself and choose to decline a lot of requests for socialization or parties. You don’t have to make any excuses about it. Just say “I can’t do it.”

Contrary to what you may think, making these type of conscious choices can actually help, not hurt, your career. A couple of years ago, I was ready for a change at work, and by voicing that to my senior leaders, I was able to be a part of creating a brand-new role that I was more passionate about. My choice here was to speak up and share my vision and ideas. 

Whether you are currently unemployed, or working from home, the unique circumstances of the pandemic make now a great time to take stock and evaluate your satisfaction with your job or career. Are you truly happy with your professional life or are you being complacent?  If you are not satisfied, you can use the time in quarantine to make an investment in yourself by taking advantage of some of the thousands of no-and-low-cost online courses to reskill or upskill. Learning a new skill – on your own time and on your own schedule – can lead to a better position in your current job or even help you make a long-desired career change.  

On a personal level, these conscious changes have made a huge difference in my life over the past few years. We must remind ourselves that we truly have a choice to live the life that we want. So, take a step back and assess the life you’re living. Has everything you done been a conscious choice? I encourage you to ask that question of yourself every day, and I promise that if you start living consciously and mindfully, you’ll feel more fulfilled both personally and professionally and will ultimately learn that life is not happening to you – you are happening to your life.