Here’s how the pandemic improved my mental health

When the world collectively shut down in March 2020, it became a pivotal moment for me; I was forced to pause, take stock and recalibrate. The pandemic, for all its calamity, discord and devastation, also served as a revelation and provided me with some invaluable insight into the rushed and distracted pace of our lives. Dealing with these crises has given me a whole new outlook, one that I will continue to use long after the pandemic is over.

Living through all the turmoil and uncertainty gave me clarity and shed light on what really matters; it became apparent that health and safety take precedence over everything else. I had more pressing problems to worry about — my front-line worker husband and remote schooling my three young children — so I could no longer summon the energy to care about trivial things, and it was utterly refreshing. The size of your pants, your kid getting some extra screen time, the dog’s muddy paw prints — none of that is worth stressing over as I previously believed. The shift in priorities and mentality was restorative.

Being in quarantine also forced me to reckon with my Type A tendencies. I am a planner down to my bones, and I thrive with routine and a strict schedule. I had to relinquish some of the control I held so dear and was forced to just live day-to-day, never knowing what tomorrow would bring. The change of pace was a boon to my emotional state. Without our hectic schedule keeping us frenzied, my never-ending to-do list became extinct and the demands of juggling work, activities, and school lessened.

Our days had little structure, so I finally surrendered to the chaos and became a version of the laid-back mom I’d always dreamed of being. Elaborate forts were built, popsicles replaced carrots for snacks, and bedtimes were loosened. There were always three boys loudly running amok; sometimes they were wearing pants, and sometimes they weren’t. I hate to brag, but I even had a spa day, which entailed toddlers rubbing, ahem, mysterious potions (applesauce and ranch dressing?) on my hair and using a dinosaur to massage (I use the term loosely) my face.

Previously, a jam-packed calendar was a hallmark of our family’s life, and I had begun to resent it. I assumed our bustling schedule and extensive extracurriculars would always be there because they always had been. In their absence, I began to miss them and the connections they brought, immensely. Only after they were removed did I truly understand and appreciate the value of the community and fellowship we had with our multitude of sports, school, social and familial activities.

It took having those things taken from me to make me recognize how much my life is enriched by spending time with others, both those I’m related to and the companions I’ve chosen. Nowadays, cheering on my son’s team in the bleachers with the other families, gathering with neighbors at a block party, or attending a graduation seem like real privileges that I won’t take for granted again. I’m utterly and eternally grateful to be able to share this wild and magnificent life with such superb friends and family.

Formerly, I felt an unspoken sense of competition with humanity in general. I was always focused on what everyone else was doing and worried I wasn’t doing it as well. During the pandemic, everyone was in the same proverbial boat which gave me more of a we’re-all-in-this-together-mentality. I began to view my fellow humans as comrades instead of competitors in the rat race of who is living their best life.

The pandemic changed all of us, for better or worse. Almost three years later, as COVID-19 spikes continue to wax and wane and life as we knew it slowly morphs into an unfamiliar version of “normal,” I will endeavor to find ways to remain more easygoing and clear-sighted about what’s truly important and to remember and hold fast to those lessons I was fortunate enough to learn during the shutdowns.

Now, when I start feeling overwhelmed and grouchy about the stressors of the daily grind and the irritants that accompany being alive or being someone’s parent, all I have to do is remember when none of it was possible, and it immediately snaps me into a place of acknowledgment and thankfulness. Suddenly, getting my teeth cleaned or waiting in the school pickup line no longer feel like such a burden.

It was only once I was forced to slow down and be quiet and still that the universe taught me how to persevere through this unique season of life and beyond. It turns out, this new empowering, unhurried mindset of gratitude was always there, lying dormant, just waiting for me to discover the intoxicating freedom it held; it just took a global pandemic to coax it out. And now that I’ve got it, I’m sure not going to abandon it now.

Christina Crawford is a Dallas-based writer, guacamole enthusiast and mediocre chef. Twitter: @Xtina_Crawford. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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