6 Lessons We Learned During Lockdown That We Can't Forget After It Ends

Doctor of Clinical Psychology By Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy
Doctor of Clinical Psychology
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach who received her clinical psychology doctorate from University College London. She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, Business Insider, and elsewhere.
6 Lessons We Learned During Lockdown That We Can't Forget

Image by Ivan Gener / Stocksy

Lockdown is starting to ease in many places, but things have changed. We're seeing people wear pool noodles as hats and zoos fill seats with stuffed toys to enforce social distancing. There is an air of unease and hypervigilance.

And yet, we're excellent at lying to ourselves, filing lockdown days away as The Past. But true integration isn't about creating a mental chasm between "then" and "now." Beyond the obvious of continuing our better hygiene standards, I invite you to reflect on the lessons we should not forget as lockdown lifts: 

1. What we need more of and what we need less of.

While many of us often talk about that mythological "One Day" when we'll declutter our heads, relationships, and lives, lockdown forced us to live that experiment. Lockdown has enlightened us about what we're grateful for and what we want more of—peace, love, meaningful relationships, better working environments—and the future we want for our children. There's no substitute for these.

A few of the additions and subtractions that have become glaringly obvious if not utter necessities that we shouldn't forget about: 

  • Personal: Many have realized what financial expenditures are actually balls-and-chains and what lifestyle choices we may need to shift. Maybe you've realized you don't need to go to the gym to stay physically fit, for example, or that you could cook a little more often. 
  • Relational: Many of us have begun to notice those relationships that are actually one-sided, draining, or overly dramatic but that we keep for all sorts of reasons.
  • Professional: Many of us have gone from seeing overworking and burning out as signs of machismo to realizing the things we no longer aspire to professionally because they impede our personal lives.
  • Sociocultural: The pandemic has revealed we are all in the same storm but different boats—inequality and racism are rampant.

Reflection: What mindsets, habits, and relationships are adding the most joy to my life, and which are draining the most life out of me? What can I do about these? 

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2. Going beyond "just getting through." 

What we do during lockdown isn't about "just getting through the days." We've discovered hidden strengths, talents, and resilience within ourselves. Unfortunately, many of us will write those off.

My clients always start a Jar of Awesome, something I learned from Tim Ferriss. It's about celebrating the progress you've made—from mental breakthroughs to habits started or addictions relinquished. The caveat: There's no such thing as "too small, too stupid or too easy"—as long as it matters to you. Neurochemically, celebrating something gives us a dopamine rush, making us want to do it over and over again rather than waiting for The Big Win (that never happens because we always change the finish lines) and burning out. 

Reflection: What are the things I've learned or honed, and strengths and talents I've discovered, during lockdown. How can I integrate them into the rest of my life? 

3. How to create stability and spontaneity, simultaneously.

Fundamentally, we need to build stable foundations within ourselves. When our jobs and access to others falter, this becomes more apparent—but it's always been true and always will be.

One of the most life-changing things personal finance adviser Ramit Sethi taught me was the tripod of stability—three things going right in our lives right now that function as our anchors, from which we can experiment and enjoy life. These tripod legs might include our self-esteem, relationships, finances, professional trajectory, and daily routines. I realized my tripod was nonexistent and left my abusive partner shortly, then worked to grow more legs. Today my tripod is more like an octopus. Also, know that what works today in your tripod may be outgrown in the future, so schedule in quarterly and yearly reviews.

On the flip side, we also need spontaneity to thrive, because it adds excitement, curiosity, and fuels creativity. As psychology professor Adam Grant writes, "Mastery comes from deliberate practice. Creativity comes from deliberate play." 

By having a stable sense of self and routines, we can feel safe enough to mix it up, adding twists to our usual repertoire—think while you master your kneading technique, you play with different fillings or flour types—or exploring new activities.

Reflection: What have I learned from lockdown regarding my need for routines and what works, and what spontaneous activities do I value the most?

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4. Prioritizing our mental fitness, before disaster strikes.

As a psychologist, I'd love for the world to know this: You don't wake up one day and have anxiety or depression.

It takes a pretty long time for that to set in. Mental health really runs the spectrum from "doing awesome!" to "feeling a little blah!" to "not doing well" to "mental health distress."

In the first category, you do things to keep yourself there—honing your mental fitness and resilience. When life happens, you then practice your fitness and resilience. Performance coach Vanessa Bennett puts it this way: "You don't wait till Marathon Day to start training!"

What most of us do, however, is to slap figurative Band-Aids and concealer over our experiences. Instead of learning how to get our higher brains back online when our fear center hijacks, "feeling a little blah" slips perilously into "not doing well," and then eventually into distress. This is when we finally seek a mental health diagnosis because our experiences no longer make sense, or we think we are "going mad." What's sadder, though, is how most of us simply choose to "weather it out," burning out many times over our lives.

Reflection: What sort of emotional or mental distress has been especially acute during lockdown, how have I handled that, and what can I do differently to build mental fitness before disaster strikes? 

5. Transforming loneliness into aloneness.

Someone once told me that, when he was in a group of people, he felt the most lonely. That is the most striking paradox that illustrates the difference between loneliness and aloneness.

Loneliness is an abject feeling of missing others and of being separated from others. When we are disconnected from ourselves and from others, loneliness sets in. This happens especially when we are lost in that tornado of self-castigation in our head.

Aloneness is the joy of being on one's own, and of independence; it's essential for replenishing ourselves. And there are many times in our lives where we need to be on our own, whether it's entertaining ourselves or simply sitting with our own thoughts.

During lockdown, many of us have been forced to learn how to metamorphose loneliness into aloneness. It's not about being introverted or extroverted. We need to learn to be comfortable around people and with ourselves. 

Reflection: What is my relationship with loneliness and aloneness, and what can I do to make myself comfortable with being alone?

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6. Moving from scarcity to generosity.

It's all-too-easy to despair about the future or to be suckered into a sense of uncertainty, leading us to act from a place of scarcity. During lockdown, we oscillate between wondering how bad the future will be and then distracting ourselves. However, we have also witnessed many acts of generosity and kindness. And we don't need to engage in dramatic showstopping acts for it to count; we can express generosity through all our interactions. 

"We are all inextricably linked," says business coach Christine Miles. "What touches one person has the power to infect many. We need to stay very conscious about showing up in a way that spreads connection, empathy, and passion as we all begin to reenter the world. I believe it is our responsibility to be conscious of our emotional impact on others."

Reflection: What can I do to show up consciously and responsibly for someone else?

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