5 Lessons We Can Learn From COVID

In March of 2020, COVID entered our lives and unleashed a world of uncertainty. Like the morning of 9/11 or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, we will all likely remember exactly what it felt like, and where we were, when a virus forced us into our homes indefinitely.

The events that followed would unfold much like a tsunami– a single catastrophic blow followed by a series of precarious waves. Government orders became a life raft without a paddle, keeping us afloat with expectations but without real direction. Soon, days blurred into a single hourglass as we watched our time evaporate. And with it went our jobs, lives, comfort, stability, and maskless faces. We’d no longer be the same because nothing was the same.

But there’s hope. We have vaccines, businesses are reopening, travel bans are lifted, and loved ones can gather once again. Our tomorrows are more promising than our yesterdays. So, now that the worst part is behind us (fingers crossed) what have we learned? What will we take away from it all?

Here are 5 lessons I learned from COVID:

How to be an Optimist

1. How To Be an Optimist

The saying, “someone always has it worse,” carried me through the worst of times. When my family got sick, when I lost loved ones, when my company dissolved, when everything I knew turned upside down, I acknowledged that I was still more fortunate than others. Those who lost so much more.

COVID-19 taught me that in changing my perspective my mindset would shift as well. Every moment became an opportunity to be grateful for what I did have. I learned how to accept the growing pains by turning negatives into positives and literally counted my blessings every morning. It wasn’t easy. Days would go by and I’d accomplish nothing, except the ability to say I was fine. For months the mere concept of staying happy and healthy saved my sanity, because I didn’t allow myself to fall into despair. I was sad, I was struggling, but I knew I still had tomorrow.

Being an optimist amid chaos didn’t mean things weren’t wrong, or that I wasn’t sad. It meant I could overcome the situation because I was hopeful for the future.

2. To Take Advantage of Today

Tomorrow takes on a different meaning after being locked down or closed out. When real life turned into Groundhog Day, only without the benefit of Bill Murray, every day became a lost opportunity. The gym session I postponed, the grocery shopping I put off, the people I forgot to call, the prolonged ‘we should get together sometime,’ they no longer existed as part of a hypothetical timeline. Tomorrow was stolen and my brand new 2020 planner became a relic of a pre-pandemic world.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, as time blended together, COVID-19 taught me to take advantage of the day ahead. When nothing is guaranteed, not even toilet paper, following through on even the simplest task becomes a foundation for the future.

3. That We’re All Part of a Global Community

The onset of the pandemic was marked, in my mind, by two defining moments. The first, when I assumed a sickness in China wouldn’t make its way to New York. The other, watching videos of Italians in lock down singing from their balcony. One instance elicited fear while the other inspired hope, and that would come to define my year ahead. A year where death tolls made headlines and reports of heroism turned pages.

Between international flights and the internet, our world is more connected than ever. When an outbreak in China made its way across the globe, in a matter of weeks, ‘halfway around the world’ quickly ended up in our own backyards. But, unlike the Spanish flu, thanks to technology, the pandemic of 2020 connected us. We had TikTok trends, video calls, Netflix ‘Top 10s,’ baby Yoda, and the ability to see, in real time, how the rest of the world was responding. Some of us doom scrolled while others searched for hope in a haystack. It all proved that we are linked, in some way, shape, or form.

COVID-19 taught me that, and it created a sense of togetherness in the most isolating of times. Every single person on the planet experienced the same thing, a notion that is concurrently heartbreaking and freeing.

4. Copywriting as a Skill

When the newspaper I worked for dissolved, along with the entire life I built around it, I felt displaced. I didn’t just lose a job, I lost a family, a home, an entire community and, along with it, financial security. The economic tole of the pandemic was inescapable and I was caught in the wake. Companies were downsizing, office spaces rendered useless. With nowhere to turn, or so I thought, I searched for a way to make money independently. That’s when I tapped into copywriting.

Once the world went virtual, content became currency. No one passed by traditional ads anymore or met in person, which meant that digital storytelling could make or break a business. People were going online for everything– from workout videos to product purchases. In an ‘aha’ moment, I knew my decade long career as a journalist would benefit those that solely relied on the internet for their livelihoods. I could edit, write, proofread, and create countless forms of content for others because I made a living doing just that. The only difference was I’d be doing it for the business directly, not a publication.

COVID-19 taught me that I had a lucrative, transferable skill– writing. Prior to the pandemic, I never considered copywriting. But in a sink-or-swim situation, it revealed a new horizon of possibilities. As I began to take on clients for projects, I built a side-businesses. It awarded me some financial relief, both physically and emotionally, while also providing me with a purpose again.

5. What I Really Need

With nowhere to go and nothing to do, I questioned what I wanted most. In the beginning it was Amazon. Without travel, without events, without a social life, I wanted something to look forward to and tracking packages became a hobby. But, with fluctuating income, the joy of opening boxes quickly dissolved into guilt and I was forced to find happiness elsewhere.

When the familiarity of the outside world faded, physical desires dwindled and external comforts like events, food, working out, or even shopping, no longer satisfied me because they no longer existed. At the time, I lived at my childhood home, after a tumultuous setback only a few months prior. As isolation continued, I ached for personal freedom and solace. I took to the outdoors on weekends– walks on the beach, hikes in the Hudson Valley– and quickly discovered that what I really needed was to reconnect with myself. So, I did just that. I got my own apartment, started a daily walk routine, read more, cooked more, and got involved with more non-profit work. COVID-19 taught me that as my distractions waned I attracted more of the life I truly needed, and wanted.

Take The Good, Leave The Bad

In the months, and even years, ahead we will rebuild from the wreckage of COVID– the political unrest, mourning our deceased, financial impact, addressing our mental health. But through a worldwide restoration comes personal reflection, an opportunity to learn from what was lost. In taking something positive from an unarguably difficult situation we can come out of it with understanding. Maybe it’s blind optimism, or perhaps it’s just hope.

I’d like to acknowledge that COVID-19 impacted everyone differently. My heart goes out to all of those suffering right now. You are not alone. If you need assistance please comment below and I will refer you to an organization that can help.

Everyone’s Moving Out. So, Why Am I Moving In?

Both New York and New Jersey top the list as states with the most outbound moves in 2020. Ironically, I moved between them. 

When my newspaper dissolved due to COVID, along with it my steady paycheck, I picked up my suburban life from The Hamptons/Nassau County (I regularly bounced between the two) and rented an apartment in Hoboken, NJ. It turns out, I wasn’t alone. Over 3,000 NYC residents crossed over the Hudson River to the Hoboken and Jersey City areas. However, in contrast to my move, 6,500 city residents headed to my heartfelt East End community. 

So, why did I pick up my, seemingly much preferred, spacious life (personal backyard included) and head to the more condensed city of Hoboken during a pandemic? I needed a change, I wanted to grow, and I saw it as freedom. 

There’s No Stopping Change

Prior to the eternal lockdown we now seem to live in, I felt alone. Not in spirit but in physical distance. As a career writer, most to all of my work is done remotely and living in a suburb, where I had to drive to see anyone or do anything, was isolating. In early 2020 I was ready for a change of scenery. I needed to close the distances within my life, but I didn’t know how.

When COVID took down my newspaper it broke the thread that tied me to Long Island. I likely would have held onto that tread my entire life, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, creating excuse after excuse about why I had to stay. It was a fear of change, of the unfamiliar. So when the connection dissolved so did my reason to remain. Change was inevitable. Finally, in October of 2020, I put aside my fear of the unknown and headed to Hoboken.

An Opportunity For Growth

Stay in any single place for too long and eventually it becomes monotonous, ask anyone who travels. And for creatives, especially, routine can be lethal. While there was no shortage of community where I was, I hit a plateau in my writing. Ideas recycled themselves. Same story, different angle. Then when the pandemic hit, social distancing sent me into a creative dry spell. With nowhere to drive to I had no reason to leave the house. My already distanced social life was cut down to nothing. It became suffocating and my ability to advance, personally or professionally, drowned in loneliness. 

When I found my apartment in Hoboken I saw a whole new world of opportunities. I could walk to parks along the Hudson River for fresh air, pass countless [masked] faces and personalities on a daily basis, discover a whole new community. Heck, if I wanted, I could reinvent myself entirely (I haven’t, and won’t, but the possibility was there). Hoboken quickly became an empty vase that I’d fill up with new stories, connections, and memories. Plus, if I was lonely, or needed a new idea, all I had to do was walk out my front door.

An Apartment is Freedom

After living with housemates, and back home with my mother to save money, I thought I’d be lonely living alone. In a turn of events, I feel less alone than ever. 

My [roughly] 750 square foot apartment is freeing because it’s all mine. I decorated it, I’m in charge of all the expenses, and I am in full control of what goes on inside of it. I don’t have to share a single thing (only child syndrome) and it thrills me. As stressful as it can be at times, financially and emotionally during the pandemic, I designed a space that is comforting, quiet, and truly feels like home.

Daily Fit: Keeping COVID Calm

Cue every possible reference to the 2011 film, “Contagion.” A chef in Hong Kong touches a roasted pig that was infected by a bat, before shaking hands with a woman, unknowingly spreading a viral infection that turns into a worldwide pandemic. It sounds eerily familiar because, suddenly, we’re living in it (only the movie takes a few creative liberties beyond our current reality). 

According to Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease specialist at Northwell Health, a coronavirus differs from other viruses because it begins by infecting animals before spreading among humans. Therefore, coronavirus just means a class of virus (think others like MERS and SARS) and COVID-19 is a strain that hasn’t been identified before. While everyone ensues to panic levels as the global pandemic spreads, it’s critical to take precautionary measures. 

First, learn the difference between facts and fear by always checking a credible source. Consult with websites that end in .gov, .edu, .org, rather than scrolling through Facebook. This will not only help with safety, but sanity. Additionally, it’s recommended to step away from the news to limit worry. Have a time limit in place. 

The World Health Organization urges everyone to wash their hands regularly; keep a social distance of six feet between yourself and anyone coughing or sneezing; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and anyone with signs of fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should seek medical care early. 

If you’re sick at all, stay home. It’s that simple. 

For the unaffected, it’s just as important to maintain a healthy lifestyle with proper diet, sleep, and exercise. While social distancing becomes the new norm as more gyms and other health facilities close, try online workouts or go for a walk in an open space (think beach, park, or even around the block). This is a great reason to reconnect with nature and remain calm, as forming a new routine is essential to a healthy mind. 

If you’re having trouble finding a way to ease tension, tune into hobbies or things that have helped cope with stress in the past. Music, journaling, gardening, etc. My personal recommendation is to keep a gratitude journal; wake up every day and find something to be thankful for. The more we keep our minds preoccupied and active, the less we will stress about the world around us.

Or, if all else fails, I type in “Italians singing” to YouTube and I guarantee that’ll put a smile on your face. Also, listen as much as possible right now. Have conversations with children and the elderly. If someone is sick, call them and lift up their spirits. A voice can be a powerful healing tool in ridding stress. 

This article first appeared in the March 17 issue of The Independent Newspaper.

COVID-19 PTSD Is Inevitable

As COVID-19 cases begin to surge across the country, again, questions surrounding when life will truly return to normal rise along with it. And yet, our current plight is anything but a mystery. Did we really think we had this thing beat in less than four months? Was reopening such a good idea?

As New York State’s numbers, once the epicenter of the pandemic, continue to decline the only thing that everyone (well, almost everyone) can agree on is that, no matter where you are, this is still far from over. In addition to the virus itself, according to the American Psychological Association COVID-19 aggravates existing mental health problems while potentially onsetting new symptoms– symptoms that can outlast the virus.

There is a universal trauma happening.

It’s been well documented that trauma occurs from war, oppression, natural disasters, and individual experiences. The current pandemic is no different, except it is a “mass trauma” filled with “anticipatory anxiety” on a worldwide scale. Without a cure or vaccine, society collectively wonders– will it come back? Is it safe to reopen? As more people file for unemployment and businesses continue to shut their doors, physical recovery is compounded with an eye on financial recovery. These anxieties are known as “peritraumatic”, occurring around the time of trauma in the form of intrusive thoughts.

Jessica Corea, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, explained, “The world is experiencing a unifying trauma of loss and uncertainty. Patients are facing anxiety, depression, and financial stress all at the same time while trying to adapt to a new normal.” Even when the pandemic itself passes, it is sure to leave mass emotional destruction in its wake in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a classified mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Like any radical shift, the traumatic effects can go on for years.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder can happen to anyone.

“Previous epidemic studies report high prevalence rates among people exposed to the trauma resulted from an infectious disease epidemic,” the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported on June 5, 2020. Just like SARS, MERS, and HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 survivors are most at risk for PTSD, followed by family members who directly witnessed a loved one suffer or die, medical workers, and the general public. Further, the psychological trauma was categorized into three groups. First, directly experiencing the symptoms. Next, witnessing those who struggled. And third, experiencing a “realistic or unrealistic fear of infection, social isolation, exclusion, and stigmatization.” Essentially, like the virus itself, everyone is at risk.

“There is now a new normal that may be with us for a long time. Just as 911 impacted our lives in many ways so has this pandemic. I would certainly call this a traumatic event that has impacted everyone,” noted Elissa Smilowitz, Director of Triage and Emergency at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center on Long Island.

Health experts across the globe are now preparing to treat patients with COVID-19 PTSD. Except the underlying issue is that PTSD symptoms don’t begin to develop until weeks or months after a traumatic event, and we are still in the middle of the pandemic itself. So, when does peritraumatic end and posttraumatic begin?

Medical News Today explains the four symptom types of PTSD are reexperiencing trauma, avoiding situations, negative changes in perception, and hyperarousal, in the forms of nightmares or flashbacks. Michigan Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry also reported, “PTSD is also associated with exaggerated activity in the brain networks associated with processing threat-detection and negative emotional responses.”

Reopening is contributing to a societal anxiety.

As cities across America roll back reopening, the response to COVID-19 is still being tackled on a state by state level. New York recently put gyms and malls on an indefinite pause while its New Jersey neighbor halted indoor dining. Meanwhile, in a reversal of events, New Jersey greeted shoppers at the local malls as Long Islanders enjoyed indoor dining at 50% capacity. In addition, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are now mandating a 14-day quarantine period for anyone traveling from 16 states– that’s double the amount originally reported only a week ago.

“The pandemic has really caused mental health struggles that I’ve never experienced. After postponing my wedding twice and losing two grandparents to COVID, all in less than a month, it feels strange that the world is trying to go back to normal so fast,” Long Island native Melissa Navon expressed of her personal struggles. “Nothing feels normal for me and the threat isn’t over yet. It’s difficult to explain how that feels to others who haven’t been personally affected. Many young people don’t think they need to wear masks. What they don’t understand, for some reason, is wearing a mask will protect those at risk. People like my grandparents might have survived this pandemic if everyone took the proper precautions.”

With no sense of stability or continuity mindsets are becoming increasingly fragile. After months of self-isolation reopening became a source of hope. The phases were planned, something to look forward to. Smilowitz said, “Some families are recognizing that the reopening is a good sign. However they are still anxious about whether these safety protocols will be enough.”

Focus on what you can control.

Beyond wondering how to behave there is continued concern over others behavior as well, as mask shaming trumps even political agendas. But the longer the pandemic goes on the less secure it all feels. Society is losing trust with its government and health officials, as new information spreads on a daily basis. Without a sense of guidance the internal battle to feel some sort of normalcy is lost.

Corea explained that early in the pandemic “patients were experiencing guilt for small aspects of joy” while others were suffering. Throughout, it has remained important for individuals to find balance and process fluctuating feelings. “It can shift within minutes given the current circumstances. Patients are encouraged to prioritize self-care and avoid running themselves down so they can be fully present, even if that means making a difficult decision to say no to others and setting more boundaries.”

Unlike scenarios of the past, isolation has been a key factor of the pandemic making traditional stress management unattainable. Something as simple as seeing loved ones can onset anxiety. But there are ways to cope.

“These thoughts don’t serve you. Live in the present, do not dwell. Having some control in your environment helps you feel more grounded and less anxious. Go slow, maybe just do one thing you would like to do and see how it feels,” advised Smilowitz.

How will we navigate PTSD in a post COVID world is yet to be seen, but experts across the board agree that for a large percentage of humanity it is inevitable. For a comprehensive list of ways to get ahead of COVID-19 PTSD, visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center For PTSD.

Socially Distant Hiking Tips

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun is shining and the temperature is in the upper 60s to mid 70s with a light breeze. After being cooped inside all week nature is calling. So, you lace up your hiking boots and prepare for a day trip to the great outdoors. But when you finally arrive you realize everyone else had the same idea. Lot after lot filled with cars, with dozens of additional vehicles lined up along the roadway. You were almost certain you could abide by social distancing rules at a state park then suddenly you feel defeated. What now? Do you turn around and head home? Before you arrive to find yourself in this circumstance, dreading a potentially wasted trip, here are five ways to navigate the situation before making that U-turn.


Arrive early. You know the saying ‘the early bird gets the worm’? Be the bird. Look up what time the park opens and aim to arrive within an hour of that time to avoid the crowds. It may seem like the simplest advice but many of us prefer our sleep over sensibility. In this case, by the time all those sleepyheads arrive around noon you’ll be finishing up your well-deserved, uninterrupted nature walk.

Take the drive. More often than not, the general public prefers the easiest option which generally means whatever is right in front of them. The first two, three, heck even six lots might be full, but the further you drive into the park the better your odds are for avoiding crowds.

Visit AllTrails, a go-to for trail enthusiasts with suggestions on which nature walk is best suited for you. It’s detailed guide tells you everything you need to know– distance, approximate time, route type, elevation gain, photos, and even public reviews. It’s an ideal source for planning ahead or even on the spot when your original plan falls through. Keep in mind, the less reviewed destinations are also the most likely to provide a spacious environment.

Google it. While AllTrails finds tailor-made trails for hikers based on park or trail name, Google maps is a great resource for those who aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for. By simply mapping out a radius, Google will disclose the nearest parks. It’s sort of like getting lost in the right direction.

Bring a mask. Being surrounded by nature won’t always guarantee the social distancing you might need. Our new reality is that most parks even have signs stating a six feet mandate. If you’re truly stuck with either lace up or go home, at least be prepared the way you would anywhere else. Some nature is better than none at all.