Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

As the pandemic wanes, Americans are rethinking how they want their lives to look going forward.

My colleagues across the newsroom created the Fresh Start challenge — a 10-day project that shared tips for mindful living and healthier habits — which wrapped today.

To hear how the challenge went, I spoke to my colleague Tara Parker-Pope, our Well columnist, who led the project.

Why did you create the challenge?

Science shows that moments of disruption — like moving to a new city, changing a job, having a baby, getting married, getting divorced — are all opportunities to start fresh and start new habits. And I was hearing from people who were saying: “I feel like I wasted the opportunity of the last year. I didn’t take advantage of it to exercise, lose weight or make my life better. I just kind of held on.” But I knew that, actually, the better opportunity for people to start fresh is now. Emerging from this stressful time when the pandemic disrupted so many of our natural rhythms is a clean slate for a lot of people.

Of course, not everyone had the luxury of being at home during the pandemic. Some people, like grocery store workers, delivery people or frontline workers, had a very different experience than most of us. So my feeling was, I wanted really small, simple strategies that were backed by science that anybody, from any walk of life, could do and could benefit from.

What was one of the challenges that resonated most with readers?

In the first challenge we asked people to name their feelings. We tend to want to ignore our negative feelings, but science tells us that when you identify it and you label it, your brain is more likely to calm down. I wasn’t sure how readers would react to this, but they sent us thousands of texts naming their feelings. I’ll give you the top five: Unsettled, anxious, overwhelmed, frazzled and tired. There was a positive word that cracked the top six: hopeful. So that’s good, too — there’s some hope there.

I think readers discovered in this challenge that there’s a shared experience of being in a really tough emotional place right now. And we know that having a shared human experience is something that can create a sense of resilience.

Readers also really loved our gratitude photo challenge — they sent in thousands of images — as well as our fierce mediation and exercise snacks.