How the pandemic encouraged lifestyle changes — from getting sober to curtailing online shopping — that endure: 'I don't even miss it'

·5-min read
Female worker wearing a facemask at the office while holding a box with her belongings after being fired from her job during the COVID-19 pandemic
People reflect on the behaviors they changed and things they gave up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Getty Creative)

No in the New Year is Yahoo Life’s series about the power of saying no, establishing boundaries and prioritizing your own physical and mental health.

Prior to March 2020, my weekday mornings mostly looked the same. I would set an alarm for 7, throw on my workout clothes, and head out the door for an early morning gym class. When my gym shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, I panicked — I couldn't imagine a life without my normal exercise routine.

However, months into our new COVID normal (if you can call it that), gyms were more or less open — and I wasn't hitting mine nearly as frequently. I found that a long, leisurely walk felt just as satisfying, and allowed me the opportunity to get some fresh air before work. I once beat myself up for skipping a single day at the gym — now, as long as I'm moving my body most days, I'm OK saying no to intense daily workouts.

I'm not alone. While the pandemic has stolen plenty of things from us, for some people, it has also offered a shift in mindset, allowing the chance to give up the things in their lives that aren’t serving them. What's interesting, however, is that it took the pandemic for many to realize what those things even are.

Efia Sulter learned that her previous job just wasn't fulfilling her. The pandemic gave her the "opportunity to reflect on what was important."

"I was spending a lot of time alone," Sulter, who experienced six lockdowns while living in Melbourne, explains. "I was reflecting on what was important to me and how I'd previously been spending my time. When I didn't have all the other things keeping me busy, all that was left was work. I quickly began to notice how much of an impact that work was having on my well-being, after all the external distractions had been taken away. I was severely burnt out and tired and I realized I'd been feeling this way for a long time."

Sulter struggled to quit her job because she didn't want to be seen as a "failure," until she realized she was already failing by not "making the courageous decision I knew I needed to make." Now, she's a mindset and meditation coach and leading a life more in line with her passions.

Time in lockdown allows for ample opportunity to reflect and reassess, but other aspects of the pandemic — especially in the uncertain early days — also created other reasons to reevaluate past habits and lifestyle changes. The pandemic, after all, kicked many of us off autopilot, and introduced new challenges in order to keep ourselves and loved ones safe and healthy — like how I had to forego my daily indoor gym workout to stop the spread. Healthy recipe blogger Vered DeLeeuw tells Yahoo Life that her online shopping habit was initially curbed early in the pandemic because she was scared to open packages for fear of germs — and it came with a surprising discovery.

"I realized, over several months, that I don't even miss it," she says. "In fact, I felt relieved not to have to deal with constant packages — opening them, trying things on, returning at least half of them. It made me realize that retail therapy, while fun while it lasts, clutters your life and complicates them. The pandemic has taught me that I wanted my life to be simple, uncluttered, and focused on health and on relationships."

While the shift from normal life allowed DeLeeuw to make her change, for some, indulging in habits encouraged by quarantine made them realize what they should adjust. Animator Ilana Schwartz realized that a habit she was using to get through lockdown was actually doing more harm than good.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, it felt pretty normal to share a bottle of wine per night with my roommate, because it seemed like everyone else was doing it in order to cope with the current state of the world," she explains. "Overall, what made me want to stop was the consequence of how I felt mentally and physically. Since restaurants and bars have been opening up, I feel like there's this societal expectation to drink socially, so I started to do more of that to make up for the lost time we were indoors. As a result, I was pretty exhausted most of the time, and I realized it was doing more harm for my mental health than good. I decided to go completely sober in August."

Ultimately, it was her priorities that shifted, she says.

"I replaced drinking with exercise, walking my dog, pursuing personal projects like my TikTok animations and seeing a therapist for my mental health," Schwartz shares. "I could easily say that these habits are way more sustainable and fulfilling than just drinking my problems away. I can't say for sure that I'll never enjoy a glass of wine again, but my goal is to actually savor it with intention and not use it as a way to escape my reality."

If the new Omicron variant tells us anything, it's that the coronavirus pandemic may be far from over — and while that comes with plenty of fears, disappointments and public health concerns, it also may mean people shaking up the things in their life they may not have otherwise. I miss many aspects of my life before COVID flipped our world upside down — but it also was a reminder that if nothing is permanent, our habits don’t have to be, either.

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