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Commentary: How I learnt to say no, and be more focused and thankful — thanks to the pandemic

When news of the pandemic first broke, I found myself glued to my phone as I researched as much as possible about Covid-19.

The scariest aspect was that Covid-19 seems to affect people differently, there is no real way to know whether one will become severely ill, or whether it will feel like the common cold, says the author.

The scariest aspect was that Covid-19 seems to affect people differently, there is no real way to know whether one will become severely ill, or whether it will feel like the common cold, says the author.

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When news of the pandemic first broke, I found myself glued to my phone as I researched as much as possible about Covid-19.

I then realised that the more I researched, the more anxious I felt throughout the day. During the first year of lockdowns, I remember feeling an underlying sense of anxiety.

However, as 2021 slowly rolled into 2022, I started to reflect on the lessons I learned during the pandemic.

To this end, the three ways I feel the pandemic has changed my points of view are:

  • I have learnt to tune out the media, including social media, so I can focus on only what is important
  • I have committed to only doing things I want to be doing, rather than simply going along with the crowd
  • I feel more empathy towards strangers, even though I do not know their exact situation. I am sure they have been affected negatively by the pandemic and we have a shared experience in the pandemic.
     

I came to the first realisation when I noticed I was constantly checking the news for updates on the pandemic and reading various social media posts from people who had become ill.

The scariest aspect was that Covid-19 seems to affect people differently. Although there are some underlying conditions that increase the risk, there is no real way to know whether one will become severely ill, or whether it will feel like the common cold.

In early 2021, therefore, I made a resolution to simply check the news once in the morning and once in the evening, just to see if there were any major headlines.

I also reduced my social media usage, limiting myself to checking it once every few hours rather than every 15 minutes.

The first few days I felt more anxious, as if I was missing out on everything that was going on around me.

However, after a week or so, I realised I was not missing anything important by not watching the news. I started to feel less anxious overall, and this slowly made me realise that 99 per cent of media and social media content is nothing more than a distraction.

I felt like I had wasted all of that time and energy constantly worrying about the pandemic, and that I could have been more productive if I had never bothered to watch the news.

As such, I learnt to simply tune out the media so I can focus solely on what I consider to be important, like my own interests, sports and studies.

The second lesson was to only commit to things I want to be doing.

Before the pandemic, I would often find myself in social situations that I did not really enjoy. For instance, I might attend a social gathering that I did not want to go to simply because that was what everyone else was doing.

I would also find it difficult to turn down invitations, even if I had a legitimate reason not to go, such as needing to study for an exam.

In retrospect, I believe this is because I was worried that turning down a social invitation would make me seem antisocial or unfriendly.

Due to the fact that the pandemic required so much social isolation, I have begun to realise that my perspective has changed.

I am no longer worried about spending time alone, and I do not feel the need to be constantly surrounded by others. To this end, if there is some place I do not want to go, such as a random party, I find it much easier to say “no”.

Now that the pandemic appears to be “less intimidating”, I feel somewhat liberated from all of the commitments I used to make before the pandemic.

Third, the pandemic has fortified my empathy towards others.

One of the most frustrating things about wearing masks was that I could never smile at strangers, such as the person at the checkout counter or even a passerby on the street.

Due to the pandemic, I am now in the habit of thanking a store clerk for excellent service verbally rather than just smiling, which is what I would have previously done.

Being warm towards others just comes more naturally than it did before the pandemic. I sense that many people feel this way, as we are all emerging from a shared “shocking” experience.

Everyone has suffered to varying degrees and in different ways, but we have all been affected in some way.

I think verbalising a simple “thank you” is a lot more spontaneous than a simple smile these days. The usage of the masks has driven us to communicate more.

As we keep the pace and progress into 2022, my goal is to maintain these positive changes.

2022 is bound to have its own share of challenges, but I also have a renewed sense of optimism that has been missing for the past two years.

I think more than a “Re-Start in 2022”, we have been moving into “Embrace 2022” with a sense of confidence, reflection and appreciating what comes today so that we can remain “at the centre of a circle and not run around the circumference” losing sight of what is important now.

For me, to be grounded, feet firmly planted on the journey you want to embark on, is one way to “Re-start 2022”.

And as 2022 draws to a close soon, these are lessons I plan to hold on to in the new year.

“You need to be extremely positive as an athlete because you don’t always win. You might not do well for, say, five or six competitions in a row, but you cannot give up on yourself.”
Amita Berthier

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Amita Berthier, 22, became the world’s No. 1 Junior Foil Fencer in 2019, making her the first Singaporean to earn the top spot in the sport. She is now a student at the University of Notre Dame, majoring in Sociology and Gender Studies. This piece first appeared in The Birthday Book: Restart, a collection of 57 essays on what it means to have a new start in Singapore.

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Covid-19 news Social Media

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