What Became of All Those New Pandemic Habits?

What Became of All Those New Pandemic Habits?

By Daniel Rodgers | Mar 7, 2021

First, there was panic. Then, trepidation. But somewhere beneath all of the uncertainty, there was a glimmer of excitement. When the first of the national lockdowns were announced, because a "flu-like virus” had been doing the rounds, many of us, burnt-out from boundary-less relationships with our 9-5s, felt relieved just to have some time away from the office. Back when the concept of working from home was more of a maybe than a must-do, the early weeks of lockdown stretched out like an elongated snow day. There was House Party, Zoom quizzes, and Tiger King. It’s almost unfathomable now, knowing the devastation that the coronavirus would wreak. 

As weeks dragged into months, we became like Big Brother contestants in our own homes, listless, socially deprived and unable to do anything about it. With mass lay-offs, furlough schemes and remote working roll-outs, a sudden abundance of free time entered like a void that needed filling. Worldwide Google searches for 'bored' peaked between March 22nd and April 4th, just a few weeks into lockdown. So, we dipped our toes into crafts, home exercise routines and cooking. We discovered newfound hobbies, which not only offered a distraction from the outside (and the inside) world, but had the long-term potential to change our lifestyles for the better. Some stuck more than others. Remember banana bread? 

“Habits are good for our mental health in that they provide something we can control,” says Andre Radmall, a psychotherapist based on London’s Harley Street, a prestigious and globally recognised healthcare hub. Having lost many of our rituals and safety mechanisms at the beginning of the pandemic, an uptick in new habits spoke to the internal battle which comes from living amidst trauma (quarantine being one such example). Radmall frames this battle as the active need to rest, which we immediately defend against with a push towards productivity. “There can be a fear that if we don't keep busy we may fall into a pit of despair and emptiness. So being productive becomes a way to avoid painful feelings,” he says.

For Daniel Cartland, a 26-year-old living in London, the pressure to stay busy was unavoidable. “Over the first lockdown in particular I couldn't browse Twitter without being bombarded by people that had either started a business or gotten ripped,” he says. As if surviving lockdown wasn’t hard enough, we now had to make something of it. 

As a result, a widespread productivity neurosis took over. Peloton sign-ups increased 172%, a centenarian was awarded a knighthood for doing laps of his garden, and more recently, as 85,000 new online businesses launched, Dolly Parton released “5-9,” a reworking of her 1980 hit “9-5,” in honor of the quarantine side-hustle. “It’s all driven by a feeling of needing to keep up with others,” says Radmall, “though the truth is that [most] people are struggling just as much as you are, they’re just afraid to admit it.”

Most people don’t want to admit when their new hustles fail to launch, either. “The acoustic guitar that’s sat gathering dust in my living room is testament to one of my failed lockdown hobbies” says Cartland, who had better luck with kettlebells later on in lockdown. Steph Koya, another 26-year-old in London shoved her barely-strummed guitar to the back of a cupboard “to avoid the guilt of having it stare at [her] from across the room.” 

Many of us never make it past that initial teething period of trying out a new hobby, where everything just feels a bit awkward, like a new dress that snugs in all the wrong places. Often, we reach into our closet and pull out an old familiar instead. We fall back into trusted patterns, like “drinking or eating too much and numbing out in front of the TV,” says Radmall. “The kind of habits that act on a stimulus reward basis that get hard wired into the brain.” 

New habits are formed through the repetition of actions that may or may not feel natural. It requires a conscientious and, at times, laborious level of effort. “To overcome this feeling, I set dedicated time aside every week [to focus on the habit],” says Poland-based Giulia Mule, 40, who has managed to stick to her pandemic pastime of watercolour painting. “If it’s [built into]my routine, I feel compelled to do it.”. Despite the popular adage that it takes 21 days to cement a new habit, Philippa Lally, a researcher at University College London suggests that it can actually take over two months to establish new habits, which is roughly how long it takes to carve out the new neural pathways. 

For 48-year-old Rohit Nanda, who lives in the south of England, the hard work paid off. After deciding to commit to his new quarantine ritual of cold showers (which some believe are good for your health) and early morning meditation, he set a 6-week timeframe to develop the habit.  “I wasn’t sure if it would ever work,” he says, but months into the repeated habit he feels more in control, content and bursting with new ideas for his consulting business. 

Achieving this is not always easy, particular if there’s no direct relation between the new hobby and your career. Doing crafts “still feels like an indulgence” to Mule. “I worry I should focus my time on work, like monetising my blog or developing new business ideas” she says. Even Nanda, who has three children under 10, has fallen off the wagon every now and again. In these moments, it helps to take a breath and cut yourself some slack. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, after all. It’s what self-help gurus might call practicing “radical acceptance,” or, as Radmall puts it, to “feel what we feel and catch up with ourselves (to process what we’re experiencing)”.

At the risk of sounding saccharine, perhaps that is the most prolific lockdown hobby of all, investing in our emotional wellbeing. It would surely explain all the knitting, pasta-making and sourdough baking, activities which center around the very provision of comfort and protection. For Radmall, it’s all about “tapping back into memories of nurture.” Even if we never experienced a home with the smell of freshly baked bread it still triggers feelings of warmth and nourishment, he explainsIt’s understandable in times like these, where fear and turmoil are latent. Niamh, a 28 year old in Ireland, ponders on this. 

“The most interesting part about all of this is that due to lockdown, I’ve had more time to actually reflect on what I need,” says Niamh Donoghue, a 28-year-old from ireland. Although her chosen hobbies were early morning yoga and long walks, she has found herself spending increasing amounts of time simply tuning into herself. “I’m checking in with my mind, body and soul [to see what I need],” she says. 

Be it by pasta or Peloton, the hobbies we keep seem to lead us to the same destination. It’s not quite enlightenment, but a slippy sense of introspection, which at the very least has managed to keep us busy. For those lucky enough to have spent the pandemic in the safety of their homes, a semblance of routine has been a shelter from the storm. While it’s not always been possible to stop the rain from lashing through, we’ve been able to bake and knit ourselves back together again. Even if you’ve done nothing at all, you’ve still weathered it. And that, hobby or not, is commitment enough. 

Photo Credit: Fizkes via iStock

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