How To Use Self-Reflection To Meet the New You

person using hand sanitizer during COVID-19 pandemic

How To Move Forward After the World Stops & Recognize How You've Changed

The last three years have been a whirlwind of social, economic, environmental and political change. It's been a lot. When the world as we know it gets disrupted, while environmental disasters impact lives on a large-scale, and when political tensions and conflicts are ongoing, it impacts your lifestyle, the way you view the world and you as a person.

You may not even notice how your thoughts and feelings have shifted unless you sit back and reflect on where you were a few years ago and where you are now. If you've been following me for awhile now, you know that I'm big on reflection. We can gather so many useful insights in the process that help us better understand ourselves, and as a result, have better knowledge to more successfully craft our future.

Without claiming to live in a fully post-COVID world, the public health emergency that was implemented at the onset of the pandemic in America officially ended May 11, 2023. While cases of COVID-19 are still active, and the news cycle doesn't exclusively include news of political unrest and natural disasters there is no denying that the world has started to get back to “business as usual”... except, is it?

Perhaps you've already started slipping back into routines resembling the way things used to be. Yet in doing so, have you taken a few moments to assess your mental health and recognize all of the ways that you've changed in the last three years? 

Settling back into whatever is left of your “before” without seeking to find or acknowledge new thought patterns, lifestyle habits, societal expectations and procedures, etc. can stymie your personal evolution. When has someone ever successfully moved on after experiencing something traumatic without working through how it impacted them? 

Whether you’re aware of it or not, and whether you felt like it or not, living through the pandemic was traumatic. But, it hasn’t been widely spoken about, and its impact has been diminished by only placing value on statistics—but you should not let that invalidate your own personal experience!

If you think about it, there are a multitude of ways you may have been impacted by the pandemic and other worldwide events over the last several years. Many of these impacts may have contributed to prolonged feelings of stress, overwhelm and helplessness. We may have adjusted to all of the things that happened, but when you step back and look at everything, it's no wonder feeling anxious has become more prevalent and is felt more often by many.

  • Sudden and drastic isolation in an uncertain social, financial and political economy
  • Long-term isolation that disrupted your daily life
  • Unprecedented (but necessary) restrictions on your ability to socialize, travel, and even obtain basic needs such as groceries
  • Supply and worker shortages that impacted essential goods and services
  • Abundant fear for your health and wellbeing, and that of your loved ones
  • Increased and potentially unlimited time for “doom scrolling,” with an unlimited well of information that was difficult to verify as true or false
  • Constant negative and unintentional fear-mongering news about death counts, symptoms, virality and contagion levels of the virus, the state of the world and so much more that was enmeshed with information necessary to stay updated
  • An increased awareness of mortality and death—be it of people you know, acquaintances or loved ones of someone you know or care about and/or the general scale at which COVID impacted the population. 
  • Financial insecurity and job uncertainty 
  • Increased knowledge of social injustices that were culminating throughout the time period
  • Navigating misinformation and how to take action to support causes and other people

There are even more things that could contribute to this list, but these are of the general experience that people went through during this period. When you look at this list, it’s easy to realize how difficult it may have been to re-enter life mentally and emotionally unscathed. 

Have you thought about how this period in history impacted you? You may want to sit down, reflect and making your own list of ways your life, mental wellbeing, thoughts, people you know, etc. were impacted in an effort to sort through and truly reconcile how you were affected during that time.

It will be beneficial with an exercise later in this blog to be able to compare and reference—even without another exercise, it will be a good documentation of everything you went through and a valuable resource for understanding contributing factors to ways you have changed. 

How Have You Changed? 

With insight on what may have impacted you, you can begin to reflect on shifts in behaviors, thought patterns, perspectives and more. You can decide if these shifts and changes are ones you want to keep and what you want to change further.

Everyone’s experience is so different, people process things differently and are affected by things in different ways. With that in mind, below are some points to help you get started in your reflection process. As you consider each, also consider if you are happy with how you currently feel or are responding to the change (if applicable). Consider what steps you might take to make future changes in attitudes, actions or ways of being to help steer you closer to the direction of your ideal life and the new you that you continue to evolve into.

How the events of the last three years might have changed you:

An increase or onset of health anxiety that includes more anxiousness around getting sick, additional caution about germs, large events and public places, etc.

A decreased social battery:

We spent months where we were legally required to be alone or in very small groups, so it only makes sense that you’re more comfortable being alone and that you don’t quite socialize as much or for as long as you used to. That’s okay! Not only does being alone give you plenty of opportunity to create a better relationship with yourself and spend more time reflecting, but it’s also a great way to decompress. 

A newfound desire to socialize:

Where some people might have lost some of their preference for socializing, some people have a newfound extrovert in themselves! Or, you might at least prefer getting out, spending time with your friends or making new ones more than you did previously.

All of that time alone, when you’re already fairly introverted, could cross your personal threshold of how good you feel alone, so it totally makes sense that you may want to try out something new and prioritize your relationships more. 

Struggling with productivity:

We spent time isolated, consuming news out of necessity, and the news was about untameable wildfires, ecological disasters, constant warning signs of a recession, supply shortages, an ever-increasing death toll, political unrest. All this and more was the focus on the airwaves in a time where misinformation is easier to produce and spreads more rapidly than ever before.

It’s almost hard not to subconsciously adopt some aspects of nihilism when the world is seemingly falling apart around you and you’re suddenly gaining awareness of disasters that you have no control over.

So, how do you go from a constant state of fear and anxiousness—whether conscious or subconscious—to returning to a 9-5 job like nothing happened?

Sending emails and attending meetings (that could have been emails) might have been dull for you before, but if you experienced a prolonged period of helplessness and corporate inactivity, while also gaining awareness of the scale of important things that exist beyond your job, it’s not surprising if you struggled to fit back into your role.

Before the pandemic, for people privileged enough to have one, a job is an inevitability: it is the source of your livelihood, it is what you plan your days around, it is the skills you have that you constantly try to cultivate and improve, it is the path that guides the direction of your life.

During the pandemic, so much no longer felt inevitable; jobs were unstable, health was unpredictable and the state of the world was constantly in flux.

So, if you've been struggling to be productive, give yourself grace! Try other ways to elevate your productivity to a standard that you’re comfortable with, but you don’t have to hold yourself to the same standard that you did before going through such an altering experience. 

A limited mindset:

During the pandemic, some level of our availability and opportunity to change our lives and pursue our dreams was stripped away. Everyone's experience was different, yet for many, life shifted from working towards you goals to surviving and navigating a new world.

Where you were before it began: what were you working towards? What dreams did you have? Were you living in alignment with the future you wanted to create? If you put your dreams on hold, it’s time to shake off the coping mechanism that caused you to do so, while you mentally adjusted to the conditions of quarantine and the new lifestyle you created.  

So, what do you do with all of this information? Through so much negativity, mental and emotional struggles and a prolonged period of uncertainty, you don’t necessarily have to come out worse. It’s time to reconcile what happened to you at face value, learn how it changed you and participate in your life with this insight to continue moving towards your ideal life. In fact, you may have even gained some positive traits and experiences from this time!

On the bright side, you may also have experienced growth and newfound joy:

  • It’s likely that you got to take a step back from life; even if you still worked during quarantine, extracurriculars and certain aspects of your normal life were unavailable. We got to spend invaluable time with ourselves: reflecting, getting in-touch with our needs and desires and developing a healthier relationship with ourselves. All of that insight can be used as you continue to cultivate your life and personal growth, as well as getting to love who you are at your core!
  • Did you pick up any new hobbies? Did you get to spend more time outside or doing things you loved? Did your TBR pile shrink? In addition to being a prime time for self-knowledge, it was also an opportunity to prioritize self-care and self-improvement!
  • You are more resilient! You lived through a historically significant event that impacted daily life on a global scale and forever changed the way we live. Through all of the grief, trauma, mental health crises and large-scale impacts that are too numerous to name, you are still working to become a better version of yourself and you didn’t give up. 
  • You are likely more empathetic. The events of the past few year we all experienced it as a collective. Individual experiences can vary, but it was still a shared experience. People went through some of the most difficult times of their lives, but humanity came together to support each other. 
  • Maybe you have become active in educating yourself and advocating for your values when it comes to politics, social justice and current events.

Before we attempt to re-enter life at full speed, it’s time to recognize that these last few years impacted all of us in myriad ways, and that lasting impact is going to affect our ability to successfully move forward in alignment with our purpose and desires. You cannot heal without moving through grief to acceptance. 

Who are you now?

The good news is, you now have the opportunity to experience fresh self-discovery and fall in love with this version of you! You may consider it a fresh start, a new beginning or an evolution. Regardless of your intention with this reflection, this is the last step you need to take before stepping into life with awareness, plans and potential. 

Questions to ask yourself to get familiar with the new you

How has your future changed? Do you value new things? 

Try to remember what you were working towards in 2019. Knowing what you know now, does it make sense to continue working towards that, or would you benefit from taking time to reflect and adjust/change your goals and main focuses? 

Do you dream for new things? What do you yearn for in your life? There’s no sense in working hard to achieve dreams that were only ideal for a past version of yourself. Dream again! Dream more! When you’re creating something that the current you desires, you’ll be more fulfilled and motivated, and progress comes more easily!

What insights can you make about your relationships and the people in your life? Do you need to re-evaluate these and prioritize healthy relationships that are supportive of everyone involved, or do you have new relationships that you are still cultivating that only know the current you? Don’t forget that while we might be different, we are the experiences we’ve lived, so it can be beneficial to your newer relationships to share parts of your past so that they can get to know all of you!

What habits have you lost that you want to pick up again? What habits are supportive of your new lifestyle (or one you’re trying to create) that you want to make? Can you give yourself a pat on the back for any bad habits you’ve broken over the last three years—even if you weren’t aware of it? Maybe you’ve developed some bad habits you’re trying to break. You can find ways to easily break habits for good here

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