When the pandemic first hit, my bar for what constituted “well” plummeted. Forget running a five-minute mile. Wellness was being able to walk up the stairs in my house without needing to pause to catch my breath; it was being able to breathe without aid from a ventilator; it was having all five senses at my disposal on any given day.
As the year dragged on, the pandemic and our nation’s fraying social fabric rubbed my psyche ragged. My focus shifted from physical wellness to mental and emotional wellness. How, in my tiny quarantine bubble, could I meet my social, emotional, and intellectual needs? Once I’d read every book on my shelf and binged every show on Netflix, what was there to do other than watch the proverbial paint dry and contemplate the meaning of life?
I wasn’t alone in my contemplations. Apparently, half the country was reckoning with fresh realizations about what really mattered and what didn’t, who valued us and who took us for granted. Our reprioritizations reverberated through the workforce and the economy. We quit our jobs en masse to start our own businesses, change industries, or just find better work-life balances.
At the advent of 2022, the dust is settling. We’ve had time to process these massive personal and global changes, and we’re emerging with an evolved understanding of and appreciation for wellness – at work and at home. We see with fresh eyes all of the opportunities we have to feed our wellness. Better yet, we are seeing the importance of prioritizing wellness in all its forms, not just reductive formulations of “self-care” or being physically fit.
As we dive into a new year, consider the following suggestions for improved mental and emotional wellness.
Change Your Perspective
Sometimes, it’s good to feel small. We can become so caught up in the grind of our own lives that we, at best, neglect the beauty of the world around us and, at worst, fail to contextualize our trials and triumphs.
- Embark on a Blue Ridge hike and revel in the interconnectivity of the forest; the complexity of each ecosystem; the height, breadth, and majesty of the Blue Ridge. Know that, in the grand scheme of things, you are tiny yet still significant as each of your actions ripples through your own ecosystem.
- Get lost in the starry night sky via NC’s second largest planetarium, located at the Schiele Museum. Acknowledge that you are merely a speck of dust on the cosmic scale and take comfort in that fact.
- Meditate on the beach. Indulge your neglected senses: smell the sea breeze, feel the sun’s warmth, listen to the crash of waves, taste the salt air. Consider the depths, both below and above, and revel in your access to this majesty of the earth.
Recent understandings of wellness equate it with self-care, which too frequently veers toward self-indulgence. This, despite the fact that one of the best ways to care for yourself is to care for others. It can be refreshing to take a break from our own emotions and needs by focusing on those of others. In fact, countless studies summarize the positive effects that altruism has on our mood and sense of self. So, instead of going on a spending spree at the mall next time you need a mood boost, consider shifting your focus outward instead. You’ll feel good by doing good.
- Provide front desk support at Roof Above.
- Tutor at the Charlotte Rescue Mission Learning Center.
- Mentor a young person through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
- Speak with your employer about establishing a committee for giving back. Through this committee, organize monthly company-wide events, such as creek clean-ups, soup kitchen volunteer days, and fundraising runs.
Try Something New
When we challenge ourselves to evolve, to pursue new perspectives or learn new skills, then we open ourselves to the growth and stimulation necessary to feel fulfilled. On the other hand, when we stagnate, we can become restless or lethargic, trapped in a mental quagmire.
- Take one of Chef Alyssa’s award-winning cooking classes.
- Sip and paint at City Art Room or tackle a figure life drawing at the NC Academy of Art’s twice-weekly public events.
- Spike your adrenaline at the US National Whitewater Center. Challenge yourself to tackle the high ropes course, zipline, mountain bike, or raft through a Class IV rapid.
- Reach new heights while rock climbing at Inner Peaks.
- Participate in a workshop at PlantHouse. Learn to assemble a terrarium and turn your brown thumb green.
- Study a new subject through edX, a hub of online courses from institutions like MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, and Boston University.
During quarantine, many of us realized just how critical our tiny, daily interactions can be. Shut up in our homes, deprived of the opportunity to make eye contact with someone on the bus, hold the door for a stranger walking into our favorite bar, say good morning to the attendant at our local gym… we learned the value of these minute moments. We leaned harder on the core people in our lives and dug our social roots deeper, if not wider.
Whether investing more in our support system or interacting more meaningfully during our brief encounters with semi-strangers, finding ways to shore up ties to the people in our orbit can have tremendously positive effects on our wellbeing.
- Memorize your barista’s name. Establish a connection with the people you see regularly, even if in ways as small as knowing one another’s names.
- Plan a weekly or monthly hangout night with one of your friend groups. It can be helpful to give these hangouts a theme, to avoid the potential paralysis that can come from not knowing what to do. For example, meet up for informal wine tastings at Rosie’s Wine Garden every other Wednesday.
- Your connections don’t have to be with humans. Visit Mac Tabby Cat Café to get some animal lovin’ and lower those cortisone levels.
The new year is here, ripe with opportunities to immerse ourselves in the world around us. Released from our quarantine cocoons, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset and build the kinds of lifestyles that are meaningful and joyous in deep ways. I’m not advocating that we all quit our jobs and flip our lives upside down (unless that resonates—you do you!), just that we explore the small, daily adjustments we can make to make the most of this one beautiful and fleeting life, starting in 2022.