Year 2020 was a tough year for many of us but I think it was also quite eye-opening. The difficult situation made me realize what is truly important and what is worth my time and energy.
Here are the lessons I learned. Many of them were learned the hard way but they made the start of the new year that much better and healthier. Hopefully, I can hold on to these thoughts throughout 2021.
1. Prioritize mental health
I had an unbelievably stressful year. COVID-19 definitely played its part, putting me under a constant pressure for productivity. I got lost in vicious cycles of studying, reading textbooks and working. I was under so much stress I meditated and did yoga out of desperation to relax.
Meanwhile, I tried my best to take time for myself and thought that I succeeded by taking the time to exercise everyday, but I never realized how important it is to slow down and really t a k e t i m e. To take time and watch a movie that’s not really worth your time. Take time and lay in bed in the morning just slowly waking up and stretching your muscles before getting up and being ready for the day.
2. Value your time with friends and family
Spending a lot of time in quarantine made me value the time spent with friends even more. Not being able to see the people I love whenever I want made me appreciate the times we spent together and all the memorable moments that we shared.
3. Put yourself first
Somewhere in December 2020 I realized that this is my life and that I can make whatever I want of it. At the end, it doesn’t matter if my loved ones will approve of all of my choices. This is me; I must do whatever works best for me and no one else. If they approve, great! But if not, I am doing this for myself and my future.
4. Realize what’s important in life
In 2020, I realized that time spent with my family is what matters a lot. I found that going offline and talking to people I love most is the best medication for stress, worry and anxiety. I cherish the talks with my sister over a cup of coffee at home as these mornings will forever stay among my favorite memories of 2020.
Moreover, I learned that love is worth chasing and falling for and standing up again. It’s worth fighting for it. Because I fight for what I believe in. And this year I realized love is of utter importance in my life. Love for my family, friends and my partner. With love, everything just tastes better.
5. Take every chance
Since the first lockdown in March when life as we knew it was taken away, I learned to take every chance that I have to travel, to meet up with friends and family, or visit galleries, museums, and amusement parks.
I am so grateful for a short but unforgettable trip to Leipzig in August where I met up with my best friends from Germany and Sweden. Somehow we managed to find six days that worked for all three of us and we took the chance and booked flight tickets right away. Looking back, I am nostalgic but eternally thankful that it worked out.
Currently in (virtually endless) Lockdown 2 I decided to always go for a cup of coffee when a friend asks me. There are literally no excuses for me anymore; I miss chatting over coffee in a cute café way too much.
6. You don’t have to excel in everything
Sure, being the best rocks and makes you feel really good. However, I often pushed myself too hard to do the best which adversely affected my mental health in 2020 and my relationships with others.
My push for being the best came from within. I became such a perfectionist over my past successes that I have learned to always expect only the best from myself. Therefore, I pushed myself too hard to do every possible extra thing I could, earn all bonus points and do all my projects perfectly.
This created a serious strain on my mental health as I was constantly worried and stressed which eventually lead to anxiety. Of course, the current COVID-19 situation didn’t help and for a few weeks I was struggling like never before. Of course, there are always ups and downs but this was the first time in my life when I felt really down and could not think of anything that would help me and at the same time would not let anything or anyone help me.
I wanted to do everything and I wanted to do everything on my own. But now I know that putting things away, prioritizing your health, and saying no is the true state of art.
7. Forgive yourself
Forgive yourself not only for mistakes but also for not following the plan intently. I love to plan and I literally plan out almost every day of my life. Not doing everything according to plan made me feel inadequate and guilty which often decreased my motivation.
Last year I have learned to be more self-compassionate. I realized that I am allowed to take a day for myself without feeling like I am failing and without having to explain it to anyone. My mental health is important and I need to work for it right now. Not next month or next week but today and right at this moment.
While I wrote these thoughts down as something that I have learned in 2020, I realize that I will still need to do a lot of work to keep thinking and behaving this way. Taking care of my mental health is not always easy but I know I need to try harder. And 2021 is the perfect year to make mental health my priority.
Let me know what you learned in 2020. I would love to hear about your challenges and moments.