This image provided by Lucy O'Donoghue shows artwork framed and hung. Even though quarantine left more time in her schedule, like so many people Lucy O'Donoghue found that in this psychologically exhausting year it took more effort than she'd expected to do something as simple as getting these pieces of art framed for her home. (Lucy O'Donoghue via AP)

Wiser resolutions? Lessons from COVID’s unfulfilled ones

She’d wanted to frame and hang them — just three printed pictures that had been sitting in Lucy O’Donoghue’s suburban Atlanta house since the year began. That’s all. Yet with a full-time job and two small kids, she hadn’t found the time.

But when COVID-19 slowed life to a quarantine-induced crawl, she began working remotely. It seemed like the perfect time to get this — and a slew of other small projects — done.

Eight months later, O’Donoghue finally walked the two short blocks to a store near her house and bought a trio of ready-made frames.

“I put the pieces of art up in my house, and that made me so happy,” she says. “How is it that something that only took me 45 minutes has taken me over a year to get around to doing?”

The answer, as it has been with so much, is this: Because 2020.

Ten months ago, Americans waded into unfamiliar waters. For many who were not plunged immediately into economic or medical emergency, it was as though some strange, protracted, fragmented snow day had begun. Plans and promises bloomed on social media like spring flowers. Bread was baked. Projects were launched.

“With the greatest of intentions, in the first few weeks people had rearranged their shoe closets and made their spice racks alphabetical,” says psychologist Deborah Serani, an adjunct professor at Adelphi University in New York.

But when life is difficult, sustaining even a small amount of momentum can be tough.

PSYCHOLOGICAL LABOR

The pandemic requires new levels of vigilance and decision-making, and it has disrupted millions of families. The presidential election required deft calibration to get along peaceably with relatives or friends with differing views. This year saw an escalation in crises social, racial and environmental.

All of this has required tremendous psychological labour. That work is invisible, but it takes its toll, says Catherine Sanderson, chair of the psychology department at Amherst College.

For much of the nation, the sense in the early days of quarantine that the disruption would be brief soon melted into an amorphous uncertainty.

“Uncertainty,” Sanderson says, “is extraordinarily psychologically taxing.”

The normal guardrails that govern the days — getting dressed and out the door on time, driving kids to sports practices and dance classes on a tight schedule in the evenings — disappeared for many. So while having extra time might have seemed like a bright spot, it was also disorienting.

With too much unstructured time, “I feel this aimlessness,” says Steph Auteri, a writer who lives in Verona, New Jersey. “The busier I am, the better I operate. The more time I have, I start to get down in the dumps.”

That’s a common experience, says Serani: In the United States, “it’s a really high-octane life. And it was slammed. We hit the brakes and everybody had to stop, and it was hard for many people.”

This year has required us to create new structures. That takes time and energy.

Pre-pandemic, “on a Saturday, you wouldn’t wake up in your office. There’s a distinction. And now, you have to actually think about, ‘What am I doing?,‘” Sanderson says. “It requires a level of planning that you’re not used to and that we don’t have practice with.”

Yet amid all this uncertainty and psychological labour, people are looking back and realizing they did discover a quiet productivity.

In her Queens, New York, home, months of quarantine led Neesa Sunar to return to playing viola after many years away. Auteri made progress too, reorganizing her schedule around helping her 6-year-old daughter with remote learning, and eventually launching an educational website in time for the start of school in September.

Yoga teacher Pamela Eggleston shifted her teaching online, filming a self-care course for Yoga Journal to help people thrive during this challenging year. Teaching exclusively online “was a challenge for me. But I did it,” she says. Though she’s based in the Washington, D.C., area, she soon had students tuning in from as far away as Scotland.

And something else: She returned to social justice activism this year.

“I’ve done more of that than I had done in a while,” Eggleston says. “It feels good to me to return to these issues. They never leave me, as a Black woman.”

WHAT REALLY MATTERS

Tough times can be clarifying. They aren’t always so, but they can be.

People may not have tackled the home improvement projects they planned or written novels. But many focused on their own well-being, and their kids’, and asked themselves what really matters.

In the past, business coach Rachel Brenke says, she might have seen quarantine as a time to be highly productive — and would have beaten herself up if she wasn’t. “I’m normally someone that thrives on always being busy, jumping from one thing to another,” she says.

Instead, she prioritized keeping a healthy balance between managing her business and connecting with her family.

“My big thing this year, just out of purely trying to focus on my kids, myself and my mental health, was simplicity. So I’m carrying that over into 2021 with intentional simplifying,” she says.

So with those early-quarantine resolutions in mind, how do we approach this weekend, the moment of shaking off 2020 and invoking fresh New Year’s resolutions for 2021?

Serani expects many people’s resolutions will be focused less on material goals and more on what they’ve decided is most important.

That might even include gratitude for the old, familiar, repetitive routines they used to dread.

“I’ve sort of longed for that bit of the day where I’ve got my handbag over my shoulder and my lunch bag. And I’ve shut down the laptop and I’m walking back to my car in the same parking spot as always, and I feel the fresh air,” O’Donoghue says. “I almost dream of that moment.”

Melissa Rayworth, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
Not all long-term care workers have received their vaccines including a Red Deer facility

There continues to be confusion in long-term care and supportive living facilities… Continue reading

Cattle graze winter pasture in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies near Longview, Alta. on Jan. 8, 2004. Concern over the provincial government’s decision to drop a coal policy that has protected the eastern slopes of the Rockies for decades is growing among area communities. At least six cities, towns and municipal districts in southwest Alberta have now expressed concern about the decision and the fact it was made with no consultation. The latest is Longview, where mayor Kathie Wight is drafting a letter to the government opposing the move. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
More southern Alberta communities voice concern over province’s plans to expand coal

Concern over the Alberta government’s decision to drop a coal policy that… Continue reading

Some residents say there is no longer an effective Nordegg fire department to respond to emergencies in the West Country. (Contributed photo).
Some Nordegg residents worry about lack of emergency response in the West Country

The possibility of wildfires or accidents is ‘scary’ says former fire leader

(Advocate file photo).
Six idling vehicles stolen in last 48 hours: Red Deer RCMP

Red Deer RCMP said Wednesday six idling vehicles in the city were… Continue reading

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Hamilton Tiger Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tries to fend off Saskatchewan Roughrider Zack Evans during first half CFL football game action in Hamilton on Thursday, June 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot (72) tries to clear Vancouver Canucks centre Jay Beagle (83) from in front of Senators goaltender Marcus Hogberg (1) during second period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, January 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) knocks a rebound away from Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov (47) and defenseman John Klingberg (3) celebrates a goal by Joe Pavelski against the Nashville Predators during the third period an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021 in Dallas. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)
‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith instructs his team in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on February 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Zalubowski
With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

Advocates for the homeless hold a protest against the COVID-19 curfew Monday, January 11, 2021 in Montreal. The Quebec government says it will not challenge a temporary court order granted Tuesday that exempts the homeless from a provincewide curfew imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Quebec exempts homeless from ‘cruel’ curfew after court rules order endangered safety

Quebec exempts homeless from ‘cruel’ curfew after court rules order endangered safety

Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro addresses a news conference in Calgary on May 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Health minister says Alberta won’t follow Manitoba’s stricter COVID-19 travel rules

Health minister says Alberta won’t follow Manitoba’s stricter COVID-19 travel rules

Most Read