What Our Editors Did During Shelter in Place That Wasn't Writing the Next Great American Novel
Once stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020, maybe people initially assumed it would only last a few weeks, tops. Once weeks turned into months, which turned into a year, we found ourselves with a lot of extra free time: no more commute to work, no more social dinners and happy hours, nowhere to go. However, due to the stress of, well, everything, all of the free time on our hands didn't exactly translate to transforming our lives: we didn't learn a new language or lose 50 pounds or write the next Great American Novel (personally, there were days I was lucky if I got out of bed before 10 a.m.)
As stay-at-home orders ease and people get vaccinated and enter the world, it's easy to beat yourself up over feeling like you "wasted" the last year. But you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. "It's important to remember that taking care of yourself was just enough during a crisis," said Grace Shuh, LMHC, LPC. "During the quarantine and shelter in place (SIP) due to pandemic, the only thing you needed to focus on was making sure you were safe and healthy, which is the ultimate and the only purpose of quarantine during a crisis."
As we get ready to go back to whatever semblance of normal lies ahead, Shuh said not to engage in negative self talk over how you spent the last year. "Be kind to yourself and don't judge your productivity during a crisis, which is irrational," she explained. "Remember you were working at home and/or surviving at home during [a] pandemic. Your work performance and productivity should not be measured the same way as it was if things were normal."
Jamy Drapeza, LMSW, said now is the time to look toward the future. "If you didn't find your 'life purpose' in quarantine, try volunteering some time to someone in need," Drapeza said. "That could be to a mutual aid organization, a local policy initiative, or something personal like checking in on an elder relative or your 'strong' friend. Service to others is a great way to support someone or something good while figuring out what your next step is."
Plus, Drapeza mentioned that "comparison is the thief of joy," so don't compare how you spent stay-at-home orders with how anyone else did. If someone you follow on social media has made you feel bad about yourself over the last year, now is the time to hit the unfollow button.
Now is also a good time to reflect on the last year and think about what you did do to bring you joy or improve your life, no matter how small. Did you finally quit that job that you started to resent? Finished more books than you had the previous year? Even getting out of bed to brush your teeth and log on for work can seem like a feat. I personally mastered my Low-Sugar Jalapeño Margarita Recipe, which I consider a win. Scroll ahead to read how other POPSUGAR staffers spent the last year in ways big and small that brought them joy. We may not have a book deal to show for it, but we survived.
Adopting an At-Home Fitness Routine
"With such a fast-paced city lifestyle prepandemic, I would either wake up super early for a 6 a.m. workout class with enough time to shower and make it to work in time, or duck out of the office for a 7 p.m. class after work. Being confined to the four walls of my apartment during the pandemic forced me to figure out what I liked and didn't like about my fitness routine and bring that into my days on my own terms. Whether that was squeezing in a 15-minute workout at lunchtime or signing off to make a live virtual class with my favorite trainer, I'm proud of the way I created this routine for myself without the structure of a boutique studio schedule." — Perri Konecky, senior editor, Trending and Viral Features
Going on Family Bike Rides
POPSUGAR president and editor-in-chief Lisa Sugar started riding bikes outside with her family. She said it is a fun activity to do with her kids, and it's much more chill than the rigorous exercise you do on stationary bikes in exercise studios!
Created a Thorough Dental Hygiene Routine
Samantha Sasso, Branded Content beauty editor, said because of her role, she has tons of skin-care and hair products, but she wanted to adopt another routine: her dental hygiene.
"As someone who had braces for, like, 10 years and spent a lot of time at the dentist and orthodontist, you'd think my oral hygiene routine was 10/10, but it wasn't," she said. "Yes, like most people, I brushed twice a day and occasionally flossed, but I always felt a bit lazy and unmotivated when I got to that part of my routine every day." Once she went down the rabbit hole of dentist TikTok, she realized her regimen could be better, so last spring she stocked up on a range of mouthwashes, floss, toothpaste, whitening products, and a bulk pack of electric toothbrush replacement tips.
"It sounds like the smallest thing in the world to just take care of your teeth, but after a few months I felt like these habits of excessively swishing and flossing really changed everything for me. Even on my laziest nights a tinge of guilt washes over me when I even consider skipping a quick floss (and now I almost never do). Not to mention, anyone else who struggles with depression knows that sometimes just brushing your teeth feels like an uphill battle, so being able to maintain even this part of my routine feels like a huge win."
Better yet, Sasso got a glowing review from her dentist at a recent appointment! "After years of resenting my teeth for being crooked and perpetually bothersome, I essentially fell in love with taking care of them again."
Learned to Ask For Help and Give Yourself Grace
"I tend to rely on myself to work through my own issues, whatever they may be, but this past year forced me to finally learn how to ask others for support. I started seeing a therapist virtually, which has been immensely helpful for coping with my anxiety, and I've gotten more comfortable being open with my friends and family about my mental health and leaning on them when I need a pick-me-up." — Victoria Messina, editor, Trending and Viral Features
"Contrary to what I initially thought, SIP did not suddenly give me the motivation and energy to write that novel, master that instrument, or go jogging every morning. But it did give me the time to reflect on my everyday routine and the way I manage my expectations of myself and the world around me. Over the last year, I've managed to get into the habit of giving myself grace when I don't want to exercise, crave an extra piece of chocolate, or just need time for myself. It's easy to get caught up in the idea that I'm not doing enough, but learning to be kinder to myself has been a huge accomplishment for me, and it's a habit I plan to keep up even after SIP orders lift." — Chanel Vargas, editorial assistant, Trending and Viral Features
Started Mentoring Students
"I recently joined a mentorship program to provide guidance to students who are interested in digital journalism. I've had bouts of imposter syndrome my whole career, and I'm finally coming around to the idea that I am an accomplished person with great experience to share. Getting over that mental hump and, frankly, getting out of my own head, has been major for me." — Maggie Panos, senior editor, Voices
Sticking to a Skin-Care Routine
Lisa also said she "cleaned up" her skin-care routine, and I can relate. I had more or less adopted a solid skin-care routine before the pandemic, but sometimes being rushed in the morning or too tired before bed meant my skin-care routine was thrown out the window. During the pandemic, I made sure to stick to it and even added some more products and steps like using the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Pads ($88) a couple times a week coupled with his Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel ($38) and Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Moisturizer ($68). It was a price investment (thank god for Klarna!), but I swear I noticed a difference in my complexion. Plus, having a routine made my unpredictable pandemic life seem somewhat more structured.
Bought a Condo and Moved Closer to Family
"My mental health has definitely suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic for a number of reasons, but one thing I'm most proud of is buying a condo with my boyfriend. We didn't expect to lock down a home so soon, and when it finally happened, I was overwhelmed with how relieved I felt. It was a bright light amid a hard year, and, for me, it represents moving forward. Growth is scary but good!" — Sam Brodsky, assistant editor, Fitness
Mary White, copy chief, also made a similar major life change when she moved. "I went through a long, painful breakup in fall 2020 and felt so sad and lonely afterward stuck in my apartment without my pandemic partner," she said. "Realizing I needed to make a change, I decided on a whim to move towns to be closer to friends and family and have a clean slate. Before the pandemic, I never would've thought I'd be able to make such a big life change all by myself, and although it was incredibly daunting to go through the moving process alone, I'm so much happier where I am now and proud that I could do it all on my own."
"Struggling with screen fatigue and all progress being made through a keyboard, I was craving the feeling of something tangible, but I hate the obvious cooking and baking. So, I randomly ordered a spoon carving kit off of Amazon and made tons of spoons and other handy little wood carvings. It proved to be a hobby that's relaxing, creative, portable, and the final product of your efforts is even useful (they make great gifts). Plus, it feels strangely empowering knowing how to skillfully use a knife." — Alison Noël, executive producer, Video & Audio
Savored Alone Time
"I realized how important alone time was for my mental health, and I committed to getting up early (before the family!) just about every morning for the past year. I'd row, strength train, do yoga, walk, or run while watching YouTube videos or listening to podcasts. It was self-care time just for me, without any interruptions, and it made me a more patient mother and more loving wife." — Jenny Sugar, staff writer, Fitness
Embraced Family Traditions
Lisa also took the time with her family during the pandemic to "make pizza well," and re-create special family traditions like an at-home Benihana-style dinner cooked by her partner for her daughter's birthday.