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What you'll miss about lockdown, according to psychologists

I’ve often been surprised at what I’ve longed for during lockdown. As an introvert, I never would have guessed that what I’d really be craving in the saddest stretches of the pandemic was a sweaty, crowded dance floor. Well, hopefully, by July you’ll find me maskless and euphoric in an anonymous crush of bodies grinding to the tune of next summer’s WAP. But this unexpected nostalgia made me wonder: Am I going to miss anything about these pandemic days?

It seems unlikely, but so does everything else that’s happened since 2016, so I asked psychologists — who, in my experience, have been pretty great at predicting our reactions to everything in 2020 — to weigh in on what we might miss about lockdown.

Your FOMO-free life

Not having anything to do sucks, but not having to choose between several things you do want to do is kind of a relief. “All the sudden we're not running around from this or that event — our options for entertainment and socializing are limited, and that can be freeing,” says Naomi Torres-Mackie, an NYC-based psychotherapist and adjunct professor of psychology at Columbia University.

Wait, what? Our whole American socioeconomic structure is predicated on the notion that having more choices is better.

But like so much of what capitalism teaches us, the idea that more is better is a lie. “Psychologically speaking, when we have too many choices it creates stress, so having limits can actually feel good,” Torres-Mackie says. “Because there's so little going on, we're experiencing what a FOMO-free life feels like.” This story checks out. Right now, I feel like my social calendar is manageable, and I actually really don’t like having to choose between parties or people I like.

Being alone with not much to do

No one’s going to miss the seemingly endless desert of loneliness we’ve trekked through this year, but some experts told me that, actually, we all might miss having solo quality time. The combination of the predictability of our days and the solitude has helped a lot of people get to know and like themselves better. “We are living in environments with fixed conditions, which make it easier to understand factors impacting our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions,” says Sabrina Romanoff, an NYC-based psychotherapist.

“If you look at it like an experiment, our worlds have become much more controlled, in turn,we are able to isolate underlying motivations, drives, and feelings within us that impact our functioning,” Romanoff says. That introspection has a big pay off — self-knowledge. “Spending more time on your own provides the opportunity to examine your thoughts and behaviors under a larger microscope.” It turns out that knowing ourselves and liking ourselves go hand-in-hand, and we might miss having the luxury of alone time.

Putting your values first

This moment in history has given us a lot of time to think about what we believe in and, unfortunately, a lot of information to process. As a result, we have collectively begun to grapple with the violence of systemic racism, the cruelty of capitalism, and the decaying corpse of democracy. Being confronted with harsh realities when we had time to process them more thoroughly than in the past has changed us, and some experts say we’re more aligned with our values now than ever. “2020 has allowed us to consider the things we most value and ways in which our behaviors and decisions can be more aligned with them,” Romanoff says.

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Yes, agrees Annie Hsueh, a clinical psychologist in the Bay area. “During these unprecedented times, we’ve been reminded of what’s really important,” Hsueh says. “Things we used to take for granted are now things we call essential.” Some of the things that we’ve started to realize are essential are other people, particularly those that have been oppressed and marginalized. Sure, we knew that before, but now we’ve had a good long time to think about how we can become more active accomplices in conquering injustice. Hopefully, this big picture thinking is something we will carry forward into the future, but we may miss having more time to strategize about it.

The sense of solidarity

Since we’ve all had some time to strategize about what it means to live in alignment with our values, a lot of us have made an effort to find other people who feel the same. We may not get to see them face-to-face, but we have become really creative about using technology to find a sense of solidarity. “Never before has our world banded together than in this pandemic,” says Hseuh. “Slogans of ‘we’re all in this together,’ and ‘be kind to one another,’ have really taken effect throughout our universal struggle against global threats. Our human race has come together in showing compassion to one another.”

We’re also spending less time with people we don’t feel that solidarity with. The result is that we may have fewer interactions, but they are with people we value more. “We've all had to make decisions about who is worth the Zoom-fatigue, and who is worth taking the risk to see in person at a distance,” says Torres-Mackie. “The pandemic has really helped people focus on the relationships that truly matter to them.”

For some people, says Torres-Mackie, that means prioritizing political comrades, for some it means focusing on family, and for others it just means not wasting time on people they don’t feel comfort with. Torres-Mackie tells me about one of her client’s criteria for deciding who to have virtual hangs with. “She developed a policy that she only catches up with friends on Zoom that she would be comfortable being topless in front of,” Torres-Mackie recounts. “This was her way of assessing who she really wanted to catch up with, and who would just leave her feeling drained.” Torres-Mackie says she now recommends the topless test to other clients, and that it’s a good way to vet out who we want to spend time with in the future.

As we anxiously watch the vaccines roll out, many of us are beginning to look forward to the light at the end of this long pandemic tunnel, but some people are scared about how their lives will change. The psychologists I spoke with want us to know that it’s okay to be scared and that it’s also okay to miss parts of a terrible time in history. You’re not a bad person for enjoying yourself during a time of struggle.

“If you're feeling any guilt about lockdown nostalgia, try to let the guilt go,” says Torres-Mackie. “You've dealt with some tough stuff over the past ten months and come out the other side having learned an entirely new way of living. It makes sense that you would have feelings about that being over.” Even as we move forward, she says, it’s natural to feel a sense of loss. Well, if there’s anything we’ve learned this year, it’s that celebration and grief often go hand-in-hand.