Each year around this time, I enjoy taking a few moments to reflect on what’s transpired over the last 12 months, what worked, what didn’t, what needs tweaking – and how to keep growing in ways that support our health and immunity as well as our emotional and mental wellness. 

2020 is not an easy time to look back on. For many of us, anxiety, isolation and loss were frequent companions. But, if nothing else, 2020 served up countless lessons, which, had there been no pandemic, might have taken a lifetime to learn. Talk about a learning curve!

What follows is a round-up of things we’ve learned over the past 12 months (particularly the last 9 of them!), inspired by my own experiences as well as those of loved ones, colleagues and of course, my patients who are among my greatest teachers. Consider them 2020 take-aways to build a new year of strength and resilience in 2021:

1) We learned to live in the slow lane.

Living la vida over-scheduled – it’s a memory now. Though it’s taken some getting used to, life on pause showed us the value of life lived at a slower pace. With plans cancelled or constantly changing at the whim of the pandemic, we learned to live more in the moment, instead of being driven by our Outlook Calendars. All of which begs the question: If and when everything returns to ‘normal,’ will you go right back to living at full throttle? Most people tell me they plan to continue making time for the life-balancing self-care practices they’d always meant to get around to and finally wound up embracing during COVID times.

2) We learned not to take health for granted.

Even for those who have been blessed with good health all their lives, the pandemic was a profound wake-up call to take immunity seriously. With the virus causing damage to all sorts of people, not just the elderly and those with co-morbidities, many of us finally came to understand the importance of fortifying our bodies against viral invaders. How you eat, how much you sleep, the type exercise you get — it all builds the resilience of your immune system or erodes it, depending on the choices you make. 

3) We learned the value of our tribe.

In the last nine plus months, we’ve all spent more time in very close proximity to a small group of family, pods, bubbles and/or ‘quaran-teams’ than ever before. Those hours together, whether they were wonderful, maddening, exhilarating, exhausting, joyous or everything in between, taught us how to better adapt to the quirks and foibles that make us human. All that pod time showed us that having a supportive, closely-knit tribe is essential for maintaining mental and emotional health.

4) We learned to live with less.

If you craved a simpler life, 2020 gave it to you, albeit with a sledgehammer. In the Northeast, where the virus hit early and hard, the simple life began the moment the ‘shelter-in-place’ order kicked-off mid-March. The busyness, noise and distractions of normal life stopped abruptly. Eerie at first, the sudden stillness forced us to focus on what really mattered: protecting ourselves and our loved ones, staying healthy and boosting immunity at every turn. 

The suddenly simpler life lent itself to health-supportive activities like more sleep, meditation, movement and eating well. People purged their homes and closets of clutter and excess, streamlining as they went. They came away feeling lighter, less burdened, despite the external chaos. The silver lining amidst the stillness? These lessons may well serve as a springboard for continued positive change, in our lives, our bodies and on our planet.

5) We learned to give more to others.

Divisive politics aside (granted that is a tough one to set aside), the new, slower life gave many of us more time and opportunities to give to others. Many began engaging in simple acts of kindness like collecting donations for charity; helping out at a food pantry; checking in with elderly neighbors or those living alone and so on. They wove more kindness into their daily lives. Those brief moments of human connection benefited both the recipient and the giver, making them feel less alone and less fearful even if there were periods of isolation in between. 

This difficult time made a lot of people realize that doing a bit more good was a way of showing gratitude. Some people literally paid it forward with monetary donations to a variety of worthy causes, an increase of 7.5% over the previous year, according to the New York Times. My hope is that as we deal with the difficulties ahead, our healing process will include more kindness, more generosity, more humanity for all. 

6) We grew our gratitude.

The turmoil of these past months has caused many of us to discover new well-springs of gratitude for essential workers of all stripes. Few among us couldn’t help but be touched by the nightly cheering ritual, honoring those who, despite the dangers, have continued to battle to keep us safe and our towns and cities running. And for working parents suddenly tasked with in-home learning? Virtually all of us would agree that educators are truly essential – perhaps even more so than we fully realized! They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude now, and for years to come. 

7) We learned to adapt, create new routines – and find our resilience.

In ‘before-times,’ we all had our life-anchoring routines. The pandemic changed all that – work, school, socializing, you name it – forcing us to do just about everything differently. 

As the pandemic untethered us from our normal rhythms, it also freed from us from old ways of doing things, some of which, if we’re honest about it, had grown stale. Out of necessity, we tried new things, even risked a little failure here and there. We got seriously into self-care, moving more, meditating more. We went outside and connected with the natural world. We focused more on reducing stress, boosting immunity, getting more rest. We learned different ways of connecting with others, how to take socializing outdoors, how to distance safely, how to gather on-line and on the phone. We learned something about the power of resilience and adaptability – a valuable lesson for us all.

However long it takes before life gets back to some semblance of normal, as we begin 2021, it is exciting to know there is light at the end of the tunnel and that when we emerge from the darkness, the wisdom we have gained will have changed us for the better.

Here’s to a fresh start and a more promising New Year.

10 Daily Habits to Live to 100

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