The Upside of a Pandemic

I think the most important thing the pandemic, beginning in 2020, taught us all – is not to take anything for granted: our freedom, our health, our career or job, and relationships with others. It was a wake-up call for many — as some of these virtually disappeared overnight.

The freedom to move about, to choose what we might want to do today, and what to eat were severely affected by the stay-at-home orders. Most people learned having good health is essential for survival and to fight an unknown disease. Hand washing was improved and mask-wearing has become a way of life. Many people learned to cook or bake in their own home kitchens. We all learned if your health is compromised in some way, it can have an insidious effect on many other aspects of your life.

But do most of us actually think about an intentional approach to health and well-being? Do we have a plan? Do we consciously ponder what we are doing with our lives? Did we ever stop to analyze our busy schedules for how we actually spend our time? And, if it all adds up to a meaningful life? Not usually – unless something shakes us to our core; such as, a health crisis, a relationship challenge, a job change, the death of a loved one, and so on. With the pandemic and when nearly everything came to a halt – it gave us all time to think about the trajectory of our lives –and an excellent opportunity for a reset.

Optimal human performance requires us to focus on the things that matter for good health: limiting stress, getting the right amount of exercise, eating wholesome and nutritious foods, doing meaningful work, engaging in healthy relationships, participating in social activities, undertaking a spiritual practice and self-care. Each of these areas can provide balance and may be “the” antidote for a busy and chaotic society.

Too often success is defined by the wrong things. It won’t matter how much wealth, how many possessions, achievements, etc. a person has — if they don’t have their health. While success is usually defined based on what is most important in life — one can’t reach their ultimate potential if they don’t have good health.

While working in a hospital, I never had any patients on their “death bed” say they wished they would have worked more. Many were workaholics. Others supported unhealthy distractions to cope with their busy reality. I saw that a health crisis was often an opportunity for a reset. Many patients lamented about missing family gatherings, not paying enough attention to those they loved, inventoried a bevy of bad decisions and regrets, admitted they did not take care of themselves, recognized their priorities were out of balance, etc. None of us wants to wake up one day and ask if how we’ve spent our time has all been worth it. 

The pandemic provided an excellent opportunity for a reset. For some this might mean job changes, learning something new, a change in relationships, a change in living location, dietary changes, a change in social activities, or a change in their overall health and well-being. While change can often be painful and hard, it is usually worth it. But meaningful change usually requires a catalyst to solidify commitment and focus.

We all have choices. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way – but we do. And, some choices shape our lives for years to come. Good health is one of those choices. There’s no pill that will erase a lifetime of bad habits. If one chooses to eat poorly, suffer gaining too much weight, not getting enough sleep, limiting downtime for renewal, not engaging in healthy relationships, not taking time for spiritual practice or self-care, etc. – mind and body challenges will inevitably surface in countless ways.

We can’t push ourselves to the brink and expect our bodies to continue to function at peak performance. Similarly, machines need care and maintenance to function at their best. Our minds and bodies are not immune to how we feel, feed, rest and care for ourselves. We must all learn to better listen to our bodies and take heed with their signals. Signals surface by pain, fatigue, stress, burnout, exhaustion, intuition and all lead to one place – illness if we aren’t listening.

Unfortunately, nearly half of all Americans are plagued with at least one chronic health condition. And, many have more than one. Some are fraught with mental illness and some with physical illness – or both. Rarely, do we think about how we must care for ourselves for peak human performance. What impact do our daily choices have on our cumulative life experience?

What if we took this opportunity for a real life reset? Are we spending our time doing what we feel is most important for our body, mind, ourselves and those around us? What kind of difference would it make if we made a change? Health and well-being are evolving processes and require adjustment throughout one’s life.

One of the best things about being a nurse is that the profession offers a multitude of options for meaningful work. If someone would have told me the first year I was a nurse that in the future I would become a clinical expert, an educator, a supervisor, a project manager, a nurse leader, a nurse executive, an entrepreneur, an author, a professor, a consultant, and a coach — I never would have believed it! And, what a ride it’s been!

I’ve made many changes in my life over the last several decades by learning new things, moving to new areas of the country, seeking novel opportunities, developing outstanding relationships with colleagues and friends, and more. Each time I was presented with a choice and had to reflect on what I felt was most important at the time. Sometimes it was hard to change, but always worth it in the end.

Most of us know we should be doing things we aren’t doing for better health and well-being. Intuition is a funny thing. If you intently listen to your mind and body, it will guide you to where you are supposed to be. Nearly always if I haven’t been listening or chose another option, the outcome wasn’t as favorable as I had hoped.

A CEO I worked with recently always said, “Hope is not a strategy”. It makes me smile just to type it. To live a valuable life, health and well-being are essential; and, they need an intentional roadmap. Resets provide a chance for reflection and a chance to stop, look and listen. Are you ready to make a change?