2021 Will Still Suck for a While, Here’s How to Survive

It’s really, really, dark before the dawn

Aila Oakes
6 min readJan 13, 2021
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Happy New Year, dear reader! If you’ve arrived at this article, that means that you’ve had the privilege of surviving 2020 without being killed by the coronavirus, the police, or the flaming world around us. Momentous a privilege as that is, the pandemic rages yet, and our daily cases are higher than ever. With a Christmas surge barely around the corner, and with vaccination numbers being so far underwhelming, we’ve got a ways to go before we see any semblance of a normal year.

At the earliest, shots will be available to most of us in mid-July. That leaves the first half of the year to be dictated by the virus, and in a situation where ICU overflow is possible and another lockdown may loom over the horizon, where political unrest has already taken hold over the early weeks, it’s once more an important time to focus on survival, stability, and mental hygiene. Below are some adaptations I’ve worked on to make pandemic life more livable.

Redefine “Productivity”

The economy isn’t having its finest moment, and you might’ve noticed fewer posts about New Year’s Resolutions on your timeline this year. I like to think that this isn’t for anyone’s lack of trying, but for a realignment of priorities. Quarantine fog is real, and quickly becomes distressing when we go about our lives trying to reach the same kind of goals we set for ourselves in 2019. At a time where we have to worry about our safety and the health of our loved ones, where food and housing are less secure than they’ve been our entire lives, it makes more sense to prioritize having enough food, toilet paper, and breathing room than to chase dream jobs and massive lifestyle changes.

No matter what advances we make financially, romantically, or socially this year, we’re still going to be living pandemic life, and if we aren’t well adjusted to that, it’s going to be hard to find satisfaction in much of anything.

I’ve been incredibly careful about organizing my work schedule against my free time. While this isn’t an option for many people, and while work can offer a productive outlet and a chance to get out of the house, “quarantine fatigue” is more than just an expression and it’s easier to burn out than ever.

Set aside time to spend with your bubble, and whenever possible, time that’s entirely yours. Using this time to talk with friends or to embrace the simple pleasures of relaxation is a must for maintaining sanity.

Set Boundaries and Keep Them

Speaking of maintaining sanity, if you live with others, you’ve likely had some greater-than-average roommate or family drama in 2020. Whether in a romantic partnership, a family, or among friends, boundaries are less universally similar and come with higher stakes than they used to.

When small boundaries are crossed repeatedly without gentle confrontation, the groundwork for resentment is set; that resentment can quickly build and breed conflict or even damage deeply valued relationships.

Last year, we saw everything from the election to holiday plans strain families. When you badly want to see your parents but can’t risk the health of your spouse, or when a roommate tries to bring an uncomfortable number of people into the living room, careful communication becomes a necessity.

Maintaining a boundary after it’s been crossed often feels like damage control, so it’s extremely important to lay out our needs when the conversation can be casual, and to remind our loved ones of the space we owe ourselves. If we’re going to continue to survive in our homes without killing each other, we need to establish cultures of consent with every member of our households; when there’s nowhere to escape, our respect for ourselves and each other must be enforced with kindness and respect.

“We can say what we need to say. We can gently, but assertively, speak our mind. We do not need to be judgmental, tactless, blaming, or cruel when we speak our truths.” — Melodie Beattie, “The Language of Letting Go”

Keep Your Bubble Tight (In More Ways Than One)

It goes without saying that our circles need to be small right now, and if you’re a hopeless extrovert like me, this is one of the hardest things to stomach about the seemingly endless stretch of the socially distanced era. I’m also lucky. Both my partner and my roommate share a friend circle with me. Living in New Orleans, our favorite venue throws weekly masked and distanced outdoor concerts where we can all meet (relatively) safely. We’re all extraordinarily lucky to have the health to socialize outside of the house at all, and to those like us who can have a quarantine bubble, it’s imperative that we keep our friends close and our bubbles closer.

Much of this bubble-strengthening harkens back to our aforementioned boundary maintenance, but it’s equal parts respect for boundaries, good health practices, and small outings that have been keeping us intact. Apart from those outdoor shows, we’ve managed to at least partially stave off boredom together basically the same way we all did as teenagers; we’ve gone to the roller rink, brought meals and drinks to gather at the park, and held fires in the back yard.

Closed bars and canceled events don’t completely kill your chances at being entertained.

Embrace Learning and Creating

Photo by Luis Alfonso Orellana on Unsplash

Even if you have the option of occasional outdoor hangs, you’re still likely to be alone more than usual for a lot of the year, and that’s okay! Back in the before times, we used to crave a period without the distractions of everyday life, and while we should definitely be more careful what we wish for going forward, there are still ways we can spend this time that give us a sense of reward and purpose without adding to the emotional drain of life in 2021.

Last May, I got more serious about digital art and picked up painting for the first time in my life. I became obsessed immediately, and apart from having a nice distraction from the flaming world around me, art’s given me a comfortable brand of alone time and a calm mindset that helps me process my life. I’m not alone in this, either, Brittany Harker Martin, a professor at the University of Calgary, wrote a fantastic piece for The Conversation outlining all the ways artistic creation sets up a foundation for better mental health.

Music helps too! I teach guitar by day, and many of my students, especially the adults, tell me how much their practice routine has helped them cope with the stress of the times. AARP’s Global Commission on Brain Health even reported higher scores among music-making adults on everything from physical health to cognitive function.

I’ve also found a lot of fulfillment in less-committal forms of learning. A Wikipedia rabbit hole is a fantastic way to pass the time. For those looking for a way to pass the time, as well as some surreal articles to send to your friends at four in the morning, the “Unusual Articles” section is an awesome starting place. If you’re running particularly low on juice, I’ve even found a lot to be gained even from spacing out at a YouTube documentary.

“To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most other virtues”

-Bertrand Russell

Basically, in summary, whatever keeps you away from the ‘rona and the Franzia box is a healthy choice in times like these. Godspeed, reader, let’s ride out the rest of this madness with full hearts and peace of mind.



Aila Oakes

Based in New Orleans. Contributing stories about culture, media, news, LGBT+ topics, and internet rabbit holes. (She/Her)