Just when we thought this coronavirus would last a few months and “things would return to normal,” the days turned into long weeks, then months and every day was on repeat until each day felt the same. 2020 became a year to take a look at who we are, how we live our lives, and how we treat ourselves and those we care about. We faced hard truths, habits that were not beneficial, unimaginable losses, and confronted an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. I am forever thankful to the millions of health care workers, other medical professionals, and essential workers risking their lives to help improve our own, and to the technologies we have like Zoom and Facetime to connect us in our time of great disconnect. 

In 2020, we were forced to mesh our personal and professional lives under one roof. We lost jobs, relationships, friends and family, our precious pets, our connections, our sense of purpose, hope for ourselves and humanity. The mental health crisis we were already facing turned into a mental health pandemic. We felt hopeless, anxious, isolated, depressed, lacking purpose and so many other feelings all piled high and deeper. In all of this, we tried new things and revisited old interests. We baked, played games, painted, decorated, started new hobbies and routines, cleaned, and organized our homes like never before, and sent ourselves care packages. We hugged our pets, cut their hair, cut our own hair and any family member brave enough. We read more and watched almost everything there is to watch on-line.

We connected with ourselves now that we were not living such a frenetic life. We fixed things or at least attempted to. We journaled our feelings, ate our feelings and vented our feelings, because there are so many emotions bubbling to the surface; this past year was a tremendous year of self-reflection and a chance to see things we overlooked really seeing.

Millions of people lost their financial security. Teachers had to take on the monumental task of shifting to on-line learning, and students missed out on school life, studying abroad, graduations, milestones, and the social connections they need to form healthy relationships and a sense of self; it has been hard to find the upside of 2020, but it was clearly time we dialed into ourselves and humanity; this past year was a nightmare of one bad news story on repeat. My own anxiety and unease consistently escalated, so I amped up my self-care, my curiosity about people, life, and what we can do to stay resilient in these unsettling times; this is the only way I can step out of bed with a glimmer of positivity. I made it my mission to create a life of meaning, filled with acts of kindness, and a drive to help people who struggle to find a glimmer of light in all this darkness. 

Back in March, I awoke one morning and asked myself, “What can I learn from these uncertain times? What can I give back to others who are struggling? What will keep me going through these dark days?” The answers kept changing until I finished Coursera’s The Science of Well-Being course taught by the outstanding Dr. Laurie Santos, cognitive scientist and Professor of Psychology at Yale University. I began to have a clearer vision of my strengths thanks to the VIA character strengths assessment mentioned in the course. Curiosity, Creativity, Humor, and my love of learning were all ways to describe who I was and what made me resilient. Now, these characteristics were my armor and tools to “just keep going,” as my late father used to encourage me to do repeatedly.

John Hain / Pixabay

Here is a closer look at the power of humanity during the pandemic.

Gratitude Helps Us Through Our Dark Days

The past ten months have been filled with sadness, helplessness, and uncertainty. I did what I usually do when life throws me a sucker punch. I dialed in to all the people and things I am grateful for. I started my days being thankful for my health, our family, the sun shining, my ability to walk and breathe, my resilience, my drive, etc. I tapped into how I got to be who I am today and who is responsible for the goodness in my life, and who can I thank by calling, writing, connecting to face to face at a safe distance or through Zoom. A text could not possibly convey what I was feeling. You never know when that phone call you make will come at the perfect moment someone is having a hard day. I wanted to connect to let someone know I was thinking of them and what an impact they made in my life. I took this experience a step further and encouraged others to do the same in the on-line workshops I created.

Being Kind Makes Us Feel Good

Being thoughtful to your family, friends and even someone you do not know can shift their mental health in tremendous ways. Imagine a neighbor who has no one right now; they could have a partner/spouse in the hospital or have recently lost a loved one. Maybe they have not seen family and friends in a very long time. When you reach out with a knock on their door, just to connect and check in, they can feel a little less alone in this pandemic mess. The power of kindness and compassion can shift someone’s day into a positive direction. And if you are in a bad mood or facing something challenging, stepping away from your own struggles and shifting your focus on someone else can bring you a little levity, too.

Remember to ask People How They Really Are

I let my guard down in 2020. I shared my good days and bad days, my struggles, my stress, anxiety, and fears, and the people on my radio show did, too; it was refreshing to be so authentic. Some of the best conversations with my radio show guests happened before we started to record or after we finished. I realized we are all starved to connect and feel heard, and to feel less alone. Gone are the days that we simply say, “I am fine thanks.” And I prefer it that way.

Thoughtfulness for Yourself and Others is Imperative

2020 became the year I became kinder to myself and more tuned in to others. I decided to be more patient with myself, more compassionate, and take extra good care of me. I fought down insecurities of being on Zoom, interviewing people on-camera, and switched the narrative to call them “conversations.” I ended most conversations with show guests feeling more connected, inspired, and uplifted, and there were so many surprises along the way. I met someone who lived next door to my grandmother growing up and had beautiful memories to share. I reconnected with classmates from long ago in New York. I was invited to be a guest on other shows. I was inspired to learn how to safely ride a motorcycle, and to become a better screenwriter.

I connected with people in a way that I never would have experienced if we were not in a pandemic. But the most rewarding surprise were the thoughtful messages I received after guests came on my show. They shared how I made them feel comfortable and at ease, and that my show was unique, and most importantly – I was kind and a good listener. When people take the time to share their feedback with someone, this can be a gamechanger. Thoughtfulness can shift someone’s day and trajectory. For me, I knew that if I had not made my guests feel comfortable, I had not done my job.

Self-Care is Not Selfish – it affects everything and everyone

The proper care and maintenance of our overall health affects everything. Take time to focus on your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual heath. I reinforced to students and adults how prioritizing their self-care can have a positive impact on their mental and physical health. Some shared their wellness routines, while others struggled to just get out of bed and get ready for their on-line classes with their cameras off.

The coronavirus has created an even more seismic mental health pandemic. Students who were already struggling with depression, anxiety and mental health issues have a hard time staying positive in a time that feels chaotic and uncertain. Millions have missed milestones, memorable events, and life as they had planned is no longer a reality. Self-care is essential for all ages, and especially right now.

Power Down and Give Someone Your Full Attention

Technology has affected our relationships and our focus on what really matters. Powering down or putting your phone out of reach gives us an opportunity to listen and connect with one another. When you give someone your undivided attention, they feel they are being heard; you have made them a priority and embraced their willingness to connect. Embrace the meaningful moments we have to connect right now and disconnect from distractions.

Be Open to the People You Will Meet

2020 was the year I learned a lot, especially about myself and the power of humanity. I did not make a huge to-do list of all the things I would accomplish during the pandemic. Instead, my lessons came from over 175 strangers that I was fortunate enough to meet as guests on my radio show and new podcast, OUTSIDE THE BOX.

When our radio station, KUCI 88.9fm broadcasting from the University of California in Irvine, required that the DJs and public affairs hosts work remotely starting in March, we continued to create unique programming each week, and I pivoted to uncharted territory. I met 175 people I would never have met under ‘normal’ circumstances, but I met these new faces and invited them to be on-camera via zoom and share not only their books, films, and other inspiring journeys, but to share their personal and professional lives during COVID-19. Instead of booking guests on Monday mornings, as I always did on my live show, I was able to schedule as many guests as I could handle.

Like many of you, growing up I was told “don’t talk to strangers.” I get it and I listened, too. Well, most of the time. “Don’t talk to strangers” conjured up images of danger and a whole slew of anxiety provoking scenarios. But living in New York City taught me that when I am open to conversations, you never know the lessons and wisdom you might be privy to. I feel so fortunate to have met over 175 new people since March, and I am a better person for this experience.

I looked for the learning moments in 2020 and created a much more purposeful life, filled with increased curiosity and creativity. I stared down fear and insecurities and jumped in full on. I began to help students and adults find the strength and resilience to keep going, and to connect as many people to new faces and perspectives as possible.  I learned that happiness is affected by our choices, so I needed to choose wisely.

I hope 2021 is your year to see the power of humanity, the importance of focusing on you and how your self-care and resilience affect every aspect of your life. Be kind to you and to the people you will meet. We are all trying to make sense and find meaning in these challenging times. The surprising connections you will make can be gems that will carry you through.