Two Years in Review: Post-Pandemic Reflections
By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC www.CreativeExpressionsConsulting.com
Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults
Last month marked the two year anniversary of the moment that changed our lives. Speak to anyone and they will tell you where they were and what they were doing the day stay-at-home rules were initiated. But as we look back today, it is interesting how these two years have gone by so quickly. This blog is to take a moment out of our somewhat back-to-normal lives and consider how the pandemic affected us and how we are working towards reclaiming our stability.
After two years of many schoolchildren wearing masks, most of the world was on a path to lift those mandates. As a teacher and community-based art therapist in New York, I was ready for the mask mandate to be lifted. While many people felt the same, there were some who did not feel comfortable without a mask. A slogan adopted by a local school district: either way, it’s okay. This has been an effort to reduce any bullying that may occur by children who went mask-free versus some who preferred to remain wearing one. This lesson of being able to just accept either way is an important one on how to show respect for one another. Acceptance of differing opinions, choices, and lifestyle is a key life lesson. So why not start as early as possible?
Evaluating Our Reactions
In my line of work, I have witnessed people who have been resilient throughout these unprecedented times. I have also worked with those whose lives have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. The lockdown and mandates were a catalyst that triggered some individuals to face underlying issues of anxiety and depression. For others, it gave them a chance to reevaluate their relationships and set healthy boundaries. The pandemic caused social isolation which forced us to change who we were and were given an ultimatum: Adjust or resist. If individuals adjusted, perhaps they were the ones who took on a new hobby like cooking or baking bread or learned a new language. Some organized every square inch of their living space. Those who resisted may have encountered issues with overeating, overuse of alcohol or drugs, along with other negative behaviors. Many of us are guilty of binge-watching tv shows, some of which we are not proud of announcing (Tiger King, anyone?). Many filled the time mindlessly scrolling through social media or playing video games. We replaced our nights out with Zoom parties and virtual happy hours. Although it was initially great to connect digitally, many people became less eager to do so as time progressed. Take a moment to reflect: What was your reaction to the pandemic and how did you deal with making adjustments in your life?
Evaluating Our Relationships
“Quarantine buddies” and “pandemic pods” were a way for people to safely spend time with one another. It was at this time when individuals started to realize which friends/family members were more like-minded than others. It became socially acceptable to decline an invitation to a gathering if it made us feel uncomfortable. This allowed people to reevaluate their friends and acquaintances and began the process of cutting people loose and letting go of toxic relationships. This introspection offered us a blank slate in terms of building quality friendships. Was this such a bad thing? Are there any readers whose relationships have changed today from where they were two years ago? Feel free to share your story below.
Evaluating Our Work Culture
For some, work changed from in the office to online. “WFH” was a new acronym that quickly became recognizable throughout the world. For some, working from home offered respite from the office life and a chance to be in the comfort of their own dwelling. For others, work intensified with longer hours while home-schooling their children simultaneously. This undeniably caused more stress than they ever experienced in their lives. Helping professionals and the service industry overall became inundated with a need never seen before. Individuals were furloughed or lost their jobs altogether, many got sick, while others lost loved ones due to the virus. Casual “water cooler talk” was replaced with heavy discussions on pandemic-related topics. We were stuck in a place of fear, not knowing when any of this would end.
How to See Light at the End of the Tunnel
Now that we are slowly getting back to normal, many of us are embracing what seems to be a newfound freedom. But for some people, the impact of the pandemic will have lasting effects. Children and young adolescents may prove to be more resilient emotionally and may wear this time as a badge of courage and bravery of what they lived through. However, we may only be skimming the surface of the negative impact that this time has had on the younger generation. The impact may be even greater for children who were already in an unstable familial environment prior to the pandemic. Adolescents in college were already burdened with their work load and had to forego their only respite from studying: social gatherings and building connections. Their minds are still developing and the pandemic only threw a wrench in their ability to manage stress and anxiety. For those who graduated college in 2020, their dreams of moving to the city and starting a new career were shattered. Many moved back home without a job lined up.
Transition can be very difficult. In my line of work, I have encountered many individuals who had their lives upended due to this pandemic and they are now trying to pick up the pieces. Many of whom are still struggling with anxiety, depression, and an unrealistic expectation of how life is. For those suffering today, I encourage hope for better days ahead. But how do we find hope?
Take a Moment to Reflect and Welcome Hope into our Lives
Art Therapy and creative writing is a progressive way to bridge the gap from despair to hope. Take out your journal and use the following questions and imagery to begin today's activity:
Close your eyes and visualize yourself walking towards hope. Write down words or draw images that appear below your feet as you embark on your journey toward hope.
Who are the supports in your life that provide you with encouragement and love? Write down their names.
After reflecting over the last two years, have you discovered any inner strengths? Write them down.
Have you discovered any new interests or hobbies? Draw a picture of what this hobby looks like.
Writing assignment: Describe something that you learned about yourself over the last two years.
For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.
Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here: www.CreativeExpressionsConsulting.com