What Our Editors Did During Shelter in Place That Wasn't Writing the Next Great American Novel

Christina Stiehl

Once stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020, maybe people initially assumed it would only last a few weeks, tops. Once weeks turned into months, which turned into a year, we found ourselves with a lot of extra free time: no more commute to work, no more social dinners and happy hours, nowhere to go. However, due to the stress of, well, everything, all of the free time on our hands didn't exactly translate to transforming our lives: we didn't learn a new language or lose 50 pounds or write the next Great American Novel (personally, there were days I was lucky if I got out of bed before 10 a.m.)

As stay-at-home orders ease and people get vaccinated and enter the world, it's easy to beat yourself up over feeling like you "wasted" the last year. But you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. "It's important to remember that taking care of yourself was just enough during a crisis," said Grace Shuh, LMHC, LPC. "During the quarantine and shelter in place (SIP) due to pandemic, the only thing you needed to focus on was making sure you were safe and healthy, which is the ultimate and the only purpose of quarantine during a crisis."

As we get ready to go back to whatever semblance of normal lies ahead, Shuh said not to engage in negative self talk over how you spent the last year. "Be kind to yourself and don't judge your productivity during a crisis, which is irrational," she explained. "Remember you were working at home and/or surviving at home during [a] pandemic. Your work performance and productivity should not be measured the same way as it was if things were normal."

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Jamy Drapeza, LMSW, said now is the time to look toward the future. "If you didn't find your 'life purpose' in quarantine, try volunteering some time to someone in need," Drapeza said. "That could be to a mutual aid organization, a local policy initiative, or something personal like checking in on an elder relative or your 'strong' friend. Service to others is a great way to support someone or something good while figuring out what your next step is."

Plus, Drapeza mentioned that "comparison is the thief of joy," so don't compare how you spent stay-at-home orders with how anyone else did. If someone you follow on social media has made you feel bad about yourself over the last year, now is the time to hit the unfollow button.

Now is also a good time to reflect on the last year and think about what you did do to bring you joy or improve your life, no matter how small. Did you finally quit that job that you started to resent? Finished more books than you had the previous year? Even getting out of bed to brush your teeth and log on for work can seem like a feat. I personally mastered my Low-Sugar Jalapeño Margarita Recipe, which I consider a win. Scroll ahead to read how other POPSUGAR staffers spent the last year in ways big and small that brought them joy. We may not have a book deal to show for it, but we survived.