2020 was not the perfect year. Nonetheless, it was definitely the year we learned many lessons that made us stronger and more resilient.
If we could delete 2020 from our lives or change how everything went this year we would in an instant, but we can’t. Therefore, the next best thing we can do is to learn from the lessons this year taught us and prepare for 2021.
At the start of 2020, everyone — well, almost everyone — was excited to start a new year and a new decade in their lives. Most of us envisioned and expected a new year and new decade full of adventures, fun, achievements, and personal growth. Instead, 2020 came to flip the global spirit upside down with the coronavirus pandemic.
As new cases of COVID-19 started appearing ridiculously fast in the early months of 2020, many still hoped it was all a momentary low, a soon-to-be-over nightmare on the long road to greater, collective happiness and personal achievements. But with the harsh, generalized lockdown and quarantine came the sudden realization that the pandemic was deadly serious stuff.
That, ultimately, it would take (very) long to enjoy normal life again. As many lost their loved ones, as the economy stalled and businesses stagnated, as individuals lost their jobs and grew more desperate, “normal” took on a whole new, liberating meaning.
Instead of the adventures and excitement we often demand of a new year, we just wanted life to go back to normal. Being able to have a walk, to enjoy the weather, to have a good time with friends and family. We longed for small mercies and awakened to the unsuspected preciosity of the mundane.
With the global health and economic crisis came fear and terror as our collective financial prospects and mental health took devastating blows.
However, as human beings, we have shown through centuries just how strong we can be, how unshakable our resilience is. In other words, it is in our nature to overcome hardships and take them as an opportunity to thrive — as individuals and as nations.
Through the global pandemic, the series of quarantine and lockdown, and the global financial crisis, 2020 has taught us invaluable lessons about life the hard way.
We wish we learned them in a better situation but we can’t change the inevitable. We should therefore take these lessons as they come along, using them to grow, live longer, and prosper. These are 6 tough lessons that everyone learned in 2020.
Humans are adaptable
As cases of coronavirus started spreading, most countries decided to go under strict lockdown. With the ensuing quarantine, many people working and studying remotely felt bizarre, excruciatingly difficult at first.
Working and studying from home can be distracting. It can drive you to be in a situation where you do not know when work starts or ends. As a result, most of us worked all day — but sometimes without the same efficiency of a well-defined working shift — while others, procrastinated the whole time and panicked about deadlines. The result? More anxiety and stress.
However, after a few weeks, we had no choice but to change our lifestyle, especially our approach to work and life in general. Those changes allowed us to be more adaptable to remote work/studies, and helped us to better manage our time. Some even managed to find some free time to indulge in hobbies or learn something new.
Adaptability did not just come from our need to be flexible with working from home. Most importantly, perhaps, we adapted to the new health measures that help keep us safe from the virus.
Wearing a mask was abnormal, inoffensively discomforting at first. But having to wear one every time was a chore, an unwelcome “new normal.” Indeed, it was torturous not being able to hug friends and family. But for the sake of keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe, these measures were necessary and we quickly adapted to them.
Being adaptable is an important lesson we learned in 2020. And, as we prepare to welcome another year, resilience and adaptability are values that will help to navigate the coming uncertainties — now and in the long term. Challenges, formidable and unpredictable, will again come along.
But with the lessons 2020 parted on us, we now understand that sustained confidence and motivation can help maintain our spirits and productivity, whether in our personal or professional lives.
Our health is precious
Health has always been precious and important, but more often than not we rarely think about whether something is really healthy or unhealthy for us. We often massacre our bodies — be it with the food we consume, the health exercises we don’t have, or the energy-draining activities we fill our time with. And only when we fall ill do we remember how vital every body part is, or how self-destructive some of our choices have been.
2020 allowed us to learn a crucial lesson on how to maintain our health and stay safe at all times. Keeping the necessary COVID-19 health measures of wearing a face mask, sneezing in a napkin, keeping a safe distance, and always sanitizing, made us more conscious about, and more mindful of, our health. The renewed, year-long urgency of recalibrating our schedules and daily routines to these COVID-19 measures helped us realize how fragile our health can be at times.
In respecting all the pandemic rules, we reminded ourselves that while the body is a strong vessel that is always trying to protect us from viruses and other threats, our choices are an invaluable asset to the body’s defense mechanism. In this sense, we all discovered that it is our duty to be kinder to ourselves, to be mindful of our physical health by cherishing, nourishing, and protecting it not just in these dreadful times but also for the long term.
Every new year, many people vow — but subsequently fail — to change their diet and lifestyle to healthier ones. But with reports and warnings that the COVID-19 virus was most ruthless in people with a weak immune system and chronic diseases, more and more people are now actually, effectively turning to healthier food.
Our mental health is precious, too
You might have noticed more and more people talking about the importance of self-care and mental health, and it might be too much sometimes and these ‘self-care’ ideas might sound unrealistic.
Most of us do not have the luxury of travelling whenever and wherever we want. Others are grateful to have a job during this whole global crisis, even if most can’t afford to go on vacations. The struggle was even more real, tougher for people who lost jobs or businesses. And, besides the financial issues that many might be struggling with, retail therapy might just not work for everyone.
That being said, self-care is indeed important for better mental health. It is crucial now more than ever to care about and improve our mental health, as the COVID-19 crisis did not just affect our physical health and careers, but our mental shape and fortitude level as well.
Doing what helps us unwind is in many ways the ultimate self-care, and doing activities that boost our mood is generally something that can be personal and different depending on individual characters.
It can be just taking a break and hanging out with friends, or spending more time on one’s hobbies, watching one’s favorite films or TV series, or just eating one’s favorite food. In a year of collective debacles and personal tragedies, these little things do help in keeping us feel lighter and more equipped to deal with stressful situations.
Spending time with family and friends is important
During the lockdown, many of us were unable to see our families and friends for a month or more. Even though technology and the internet did help in keeping us in touch, we certainly felt the weight of this particular emotional void.
In our hearts of hearts, we felt the soothing presence of parents, relatives, friends, and colleagues whose warm hugs, tender kisses, and friendly handshakes could have palmed away much of our pandemic-induced anxiety and dread.
Because we could not meet our family and friends in real life, we made extra effort to take some time to call on the phone or have a zoom chat with them to check on everyone.
We kept in touch; we tried to be there for each other, to relieve the burden of isolation and loneliness that came with social distancing. As much as we longed for the company of our loved ones, however, we kept our distance out of love and concern for our collective safety.
2020 also helped us learn an important lesson about the importance of human company and connections. That it is okay to talk to others about our problems and issues. That, just as you would like to be there for people you love by helping them through their problems, they, too, would love to be there for you, to guide and help you through your insecurities and uncertainties.
And that is something we learned in our professional lives as well. Being in the same situation as your colleagues or classmates during this pandemic can help you talk together about common issues and how each one tries to solve them.
Excessive social media is toxic
Being locked in our homes without many real-life contacts with others had us use our phones and gadgets more to stay in contact with work, school, family, and friends, but also to stay informed and updated about the pandemic.
A non-stop online presence — always scrolling through Facebook pages, Twitter news, and Instagram posts — can be hectic and energy draining. Most often than not, what started off as a 10-minute phone check can turn into two hours of aimless scrolling, and that is a trap that almost all of us are guilty of falling into.
Excessive use of social media platforms can be very toxic, and we learned that the hard way in 2020. It encouraged the spread of another pandemic called “infodemic” — the deliberate distribution of false information that ends up spreading at a ridiculous pace due to technology and the internet.
An obsessive use of social media also leads to many mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, and a slew of other psychological conditions. These include symptoms that can come from constantly wanting to be connected through the internet, or from comparing one’s life to the illusive and performative perfection that friends and celebrities exude on social media.
In 2020, we learned that not everything on the internet is true, a lot of fake news spread fast and need double-checking. Getting news from trusted sources is important, and we should remember that the people on social media are not perfect creatures without flaws.
So toxic and intoxicating has our relationship with our cell phones become that psychologists are now seriously researching the ways in which our gadgets have markedly altered life and meaning for our generation. NOMOPHOBIA (no mobile phone phobia), ringxiety, techno-stress, and over-connection are all emerging emotional disorders that recent research has uncovered.
Hanging out by yourself can be fun
This year we got the chance to spend more time alone. This might have been a scary thing in the early months, especially for those who are used to being in the company of others. However, this gave many of us the opportunity to understand ourselves better and take a break from others’ constant influence on how we see ourselves and the world around.
2020 was the year we all learned that hanging out alone was not all that bad. That, in fact, it can be fun! We got to know more about what makes us happy and what does not. Some of us even took this precious alone time to reflect more profoundly on the choices we have made until now and what we really want to achieve in life.
Others also discovered new hobbies and passions that helped them cope with stress and anxiety. Some others got the chance to learn new skills, whether it was a new language, coding, or just fixing something at home.
We learned not just that we are fun on our own but also that learning about ourselves is a long and painful process. This year was undeniably one of the toughest years in most people’s lives. There have been many losses and there were issues whose solution required that we be fast and flexible.
But this did not stop us from learning from the challenges and growing through the obstacles. After all, as the old adage goes, what does not kill us might leave us severely hurt, but it definitely makes us stronger — and smarter.