Home / Opinion / Columns /  Pandemic habits we should stick to in the new year and beyond

As the Omicron variant continues to spread, it seems like we are stuck in a loop of uncertainty. All of us are, however, hopeful that the New Year ahead will be very different from 2021. We hope and pray for far less pain and loss, far more normalcy, joy and happiness. We hope this terrible pandemic, which has sapped us over the past two years, just goes away and never returns.

While we look forward to these big positive changes, we can’t overlook the fact that there are also many good habits the pandemic has inculcated in us. Many of these behaviours have made us better human beings, and more effective, efficient and self-aware professionals.

Even as the year ends, we should reflect on these habits, because they are worth carrying forward into the new year. A look at some of them and why they are worth keeping.

Be kind to yourself too

As we have endured multiple lockdowns, illnesses in the family, job losses, relative isolation from our colleagues and friends, many of us have grappled with how best to live through this difficult and somewhat surreal time. One lesson that has come out of this period is the need to be kind to oneself. This is perhaps the best antidote to combating stress.

While many of us like to be productive every day, and deal successfully with all the challenges that life throws at us, the stresses of the pandemic have taught us that it is equally important not to hold ourselves to super-human standards all the time. We can be kind to ourselves in many simple ways. For instance, by eating and sleeping well, enjoying simple pleasures such as eating a delicious meal or taking a nice walk every day, or taking a few minutes to meditate. I hope to take this learning forward into 2022, for sure.

Check your tone

Every time I have called a colleague or friend during 2021, particularly people I have not been in touch with regularly, I have often thought to myself, do I really know what is happening in their lives during this difficult time ? I try to assess this during the first few minutes of the conversation, before getting down to discuss the work at hand, or the specific transaction which I have called up for. The tone of my emails has become distinctly gentler, when I know the person I am addressing, or his or her family, has gone through a bad patch.

The pain of the second wave, earlier this year, has reinforced in my mind the need for empathy, consciously putting ourselves in the shoes of others, even as we interact with them. This is a good habit to cultivate in the future too because it makes us better human beings. In an increasingly divisive world, it will also make us a better society.

To-do list always matters

In the past, I have generally found it difficult to say “no" to requests from colleagues or friends. All with good intent, but this typically results in my to-do list overflowing at the brim. The year 2021 has taught me the need to ruthlessly prioritise things related to work or otherwise, given the multiple demands the pandemic, as well as a bout of illness earlier in the year, have brought into my life.

I now make only the commitments that my bandwidth and health permit me to take up, and ensure to leave some time for myself. And I do my best to ensure that I deliver on all these commitments, to standards that I can be proud of. I think this has made me far more effective, as I give each task the mindspace which it truly deserves.

What’s more, prioritisation has also brought better balance into my life. Saying “no" to less important meetings and matters is certainly a habit worth taking forward.

STAY CreativE

So many people I know have cultivated beautiful creative habits since the start of the pandemic. My wife has taken to active terrace gardening, and revels in it alongside her day job as a data scientist. A colleague has become an avid painter. A friend has taken to making and selling dolls for charity. Two of my acquaintances at the workplace have published books of poetry. Many of us have engaged in these creative pursuits to combat the stress and the bleak news of the pandemic.

During the year gone by, creativity has helped liberate our minds from the confines of the coronavirus. In the year ahead, whether the pandemic becomes endemic or not, these creative pursuits are certainly worth their weight in gold, because they help rejuvenate ourselves in so many wonderful ways.

The power of resilience

The ups-and-downs of 2021 have enabled an important self-discovery: we can be even more resilient that we ever imagined. Many people have lost loved ones to covid-19. Loneliness has been a big issue, including for senior citizens. Layoffs have affected workers, particularly in some industry sectors. So many local businesses, including small and medium scale entrepreneurs, have faced very tough market conditions. Lots of anticipated travel has been put on hold because of entry and quarantine restrictions.

Yet so many of us have bounced back each time, emerging from our tunnels with vigour and energy, determined to take life by its horns and move forward. We have begun living life with as much normalcy as we can, taking various pandemic-triggered undulations in our stride. Resilience is a wonderful thing, it sustains hope and makes life worth living. It will stand us in good stead in the New Year, too.

Wash hands

And finally, let us not forget a simple, healthy habit that is worthwhile carrying forward. This pandemic has taught us how to wash our hands well, and often enough.

This habit is admittedly not in the same league as the behaviours listed above, but it is perhaps more far important than any of them, given that it can keep illness away and save lives.

Here’s hoping that we continue to wash our hands equally well in 2022, even after the pandemic has, hopefully, gone away. 

Harish Bhat works with the Tata group. One good, new habit he has picked up during this year is regular sessions of yoga. He recommends this to everyone.

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