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Wellness in the Pandemic

Before COVID-19 hit, I worked in a hospital laboratory. There was a gym only feet away from my office. I had a personal trainer twice a week and free fitness classes available on other days. I had planned to leave for Dubai on March 9, doing calculations on the risk I would be taking while going on a long-anticipated trip. I had connecting flights in Europe, so I did due diligence and carried hand sanitizer, a baggie filled with disinfecting wipes, and a Palestinian scarf called a keffiyeh to cover my face in case I sneezed, coughed, or had to touch my face. The trip ended up being phenomenal. Had I gone a week earlier, Dubai would have been far more packed with people. A week later, everything would have been shut down. The timing felt perfect.

My original return flights went through Europe, which was then the new hot spot for COVID-19. Italy seemed like it was on fire. Germany was next to burn. A couple days before I left Dubai, it began to hit me that life will be different when I get home. And that if I went through Europe, I would most certainly be locked down at home for 2 weeks. I ditched my original return flights and bought a direct Emirates flight back to the States. Even though I did not go through Europe, the CDC interviewed me and told me to self-quarantine if I could for two weeks.

The world I came home to on March 20 was completely different. There were no cars on the streets, no one in the airport. There were no gyms, no restaurants, no more in person interactions. Not even swimming pools. The contrast between the bustling little city I left, the big city lights of Dubai, and the deserted city to which I came home could not be any greater.

I started working from home the next Monday and realized, I do not have my gym. My trainer. Not even a walk to and from my car in the parking garage every day. I did not have my office mates to joke with. I could not visit with my best friends to show them all the pictures I took and everything I learned and loved so much about the trip. Physical and emotional wellness were suddenly in question. Then the opportunity to work for JTG Consulting Group came up days after I started back to work for the hospital. I jumped at the opportunity.

My first consulting job with #JTG was basically to interface as many analyzers that can run COVID-19 testing as quickly as possible for a large hospital system in Florida. This meant 10, 12, sometimes 14 hour days working with Sunquest, Data Innovations, and Epic. For weeks. The wellness that was in the air weeks ago completely flew out the window. We had a job to do – an important one – and I was not about to let our clients down.

We completed that job last week. Now that the firehose of COVID-19 projects has calmed down, the days are coming back to normal. But the wellness I had been unable to focus on since March 9 needed revisiting. Although things are somewhat reopened, I will still not go to the gym. I will not join the fitness classes. I do not have office mates as my job has moved permanently into my home. I still have not seen most of my best friends since before my trip. With a high-deductible health insurance plan, I cannot afford to get sick. Risk reduction will be my “new normal” for a probably a long time.

How does one redefine wellness and focus on things that in March, we all took for granted? What does wellness in the “new normal” look like? I had to take a deep dive into what I need to focus on, and for me, this is it.

Interpersonal wellness:

After weeks of not seeing friends and coworkers, we began to get creative. Every Friday, we have a Zoom happy hour. We have gone around the “table” to say what we are grateful for. We ask about each other’s week, and oddly, I believe it made us closer. We laugh and cry a lot more together on Fridays than we ever did pre-pandemic.

One or two people at a time can sit in the shade of a front porch and enjoy a face to face encounter from a distance. Instead of showing my best friend pictures of my trip side by side, I sat 12 feet away narrating the trip while I texted her photos. She had not left her house at that point in almost two months. It is okay to risk so very little to get so much reward.

Reconnect with old friends on social media. I realize decades later that I absolutely love my high school friends still to this day. I have made lots of new friends as well. We do not have to be completely isolated while staying at home. Imagine if the pandemic had hit before all these connectivity options became available to nearly everyone?

Physical wellness:

My trainer, Krista, moved her business outside to a local park. I happened to have a stock of isopropyl alcohol and disinfecting wipes pre-pandemic, so I gave them to her so she could still do training while keeping us safe. We meet every Saturday for an hour. It is not as much activity as before COVID-19, but it sure feels good to be sore every Sunday.

I created some mini-circuits to do throughout the workday. 3-4 minutes of moves that can easily be done in the office without shoes a few times a day. I have honestly only done these a couple of times, but plan to add them into a routine to build up better habits.

I live in the desert, so I get up earlier than I must so that I can go outside before the heat of the day arrives. Today, I went a couple miles of quick paced walking with jogging intervals just to shake the cobwebs off my bones. This must also become a routine in the “new normal.” It certainly gave me a boost of energy that I have missed.

Spiritual wellness:

Admittedly, this one is more difficult for me. There are apps like Calm and Headspace that may help with focus and mindfulness. I am not one to mediate, but it seems like at least a few minutes a day of placing everything on PAUSE is not a bad idea. This is last in my list not because it is the least important, but because it is difficult to reflect inwardly in tough times. It is good to take time out to reflect. What are your goals? Your fears? What is your new “new normal”?

The pandemic has certainly changed life as we knew it. Our interpersonal, physical, and spiritual lives have drastically changed. Travel is questionable for the unforeseeable future. When will vacations and friend time be like the “old normal”? No one can really tell. What wellness will look like in the “new normal” is up to you. And you deserve it.

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