As I write this, I know some of you are still in some form of lockdown, and many more are very much into your first wave of this virus. Here in France, we’re a bit ahead of you, and as we continue in Phase II of Déconfinement, I wanted to share what I’ve learned along this journey in hopes that it will shed some light on what feels like dark times. Here are 10 things I’ve learned from confinement:
1. Over time, the human brain normalizes even the most extreme situations.
Things that seem unthinkable—confining us to small zones, requiring government papers to move freely, limiting when and how we could do daily tasks—we learned to take in our stride. Soon, we began to find our rhythm with the new restrictions. Once we adopted this routine, confinement no longer felt like the end of the world. When restrictions were lifted and life’s normal pace resumed, we even said we missed the stillness. In the extreme, this ability to normalize what should never be normal is not a good thing, because it shows how quickly we can become indoctrinated, numb to the unthinkable in order to survive. But in small doses, it reflects how resilient we are, how adaptable. Next time we think something is too hard to bear, we might think twice before we start to whine and wail.
2. No, this isn’t forever.
The day café terraces in Paris reopened, I sat and had a glass of wine, misty-eyed. A headline that appeared in a U.S. newspaper at the start of lockdown popped into my head: “Will We have an America Without Restaurants?” Turns out, no. Restaurants and shops have, of course, reopened—and so have our lives. Some might say too soon, but the point is, the doomsday we feared has not arrived. Life may be different, and it’s not easy, but it will carry on. And so will you.
3. We’re capable of more than we know.
If someone told you last year that this was coming, you’d have probably started searching for the escape hatch. No way you’d make it through. Now, here we are. If you’re reading this blog, you’re still standing, still laughing, still dreaming. Congratulations. You’ve passed the test. Next time catastrophe strikes—and it will—you’ll know you got this.
4. Self-care is not a luxury.
We find so many excuses to put ourselves last. But the emotional and physical stress of confinement forced us to take care of mind and body, or else fall apart. I enrolled in a meditation course, worked out every morning with Instagram TV, video-socialized to stay connected. Do we need a pandemic to remind us that our physical and mental well-being are our responsibility? Treat yourself with love every day, not just when things go south.
5. We can do more with less.
When we were living with the limitations of confinement here in Paris, we could only go out once a day, and had to prioritize our “wants” lists to avoid too-frequent store visits. Limitations like these teach you to improvise, conserve, and go without. But this “new normal” was the old normal for our parents and grandparents who could only afford to eat out on special occasions, and for whom, vacations meant packing up the car and going to the beach for the day. They went without to save money and, you know, avoid credit card debt. Did they feel like losers? No, they believed they were acquiring wealth for the future. Going without does not mean deprivation. Wealth is more about what you save than what you buy.
6. Hard times reveal what really matters.
I learned this lesson when my mother was sick. Nothing gives more clarity than tragedy. Like when the house is on fire, what do you want to save? Ambition, possessions, gripes and grudges—all of it falls away. What’s left is the formula for a full life. For me, I realized that family, friends, and a little place to call my own was all I needed to be deliriously happy. What really matters to you?
7. Hope will out.
This is actually the title of the first chapter of my book, a lesson I learned during the darkest time in my life after my mother died. What did I learn? The human mind can only take so much bleakness before it seeks out a silver lining. During this pandemic we hang on to any bright spot: a sunny day, a silly meme, a piece of good news. It actually takes work to stay negative—incessant negative self-talk, or a constant stream of fear and anger on social media, for example. But your soul prefers peace, and it will go there naturally if you let it. And speaking of being fed a constant stream of negativity…
8. You can live without social media.
About two weeks into confinement I realized Facebook was becoming dangerous to my mental health, creating overwhelm and despair. I called the newsfeed “the toxic conveyor belt” because it kept serving up fear, misinformation, division, and death. So I did the unimagineable: I cut my time on social media to five minutes a day, just long enough to share my blog posts and interact with my readers. I was surprised how quickly I got over the scroll addiction and how peaceful I became. Plus, I had much more time to take care of myself, reflect on life, and create. Take this advice from a branding and marketing expert: social media is a tool used to manipulate your thoughts in order to sell you something, sway your opinion, or get you to click and share impulsively. Don’t be a puppet. You can do better things with your brain—and your time.
9. A blank canvas is an invitation to create.
With our normal daily lives on pause, many of us not home-schooling kids were left standing around with nothing to do. At first, it was disconcerting. Who are we without the noise and busy-ness of our lives? But soon, you starting cooking, redecorating, gardening, launching that long-neglected side gig. It was amazing, everything you created. Me, I wrote a daily journal about confinement, redesigned my website, took an online course, wrote a couple book proposals—and had a hell of a time doing it. Emptiness doesn’t mean you’ve got nothing. It’s space designed to be filled with ideas.
10. The only way through is together.
It seems like we’re becoming more divided than ever, but if this pandemic is showing us anything, it’s that we need to work together to keep the number of cases down. We see what happens when we don’t. Mutual love and respect is the ultimate solution—not just for where we are now, but for where we want to go. The era of “me, me, me” is over. It’s time to come together and create real change for a better world.
On the bookshelf