A Pandemic Debrief – 6 Questions to Ask Yourself


“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

It’s June 2021. We are (we think and hope) slowly climbing out of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is still raging in many countries. We are (we think and hope) getting a handle on it as more of the population is vaccinated. We are (we think and hope) wiser and more resilient than before.

It seems to me a good time for a pandemic debrief. An opportunity to check in with ourselves and see how we fared throughout this. The debrief is a technique used by corporations following big projects, and by disaster response teams after responding to an event. It’s an effective way to acknowledge what went right and what could have gone better.

If you’re the slightest bit introspective, you’ve probably already been doing this regarding the pandemic. You’ve been looking at what went right and wrong in your own life. So, let’s dive in, asking ourselves six important debrief questions. It might be helpful to write out the answers; one day it will be interesting to look back at what you wrote!

1. What happened? Well, we know the answer to this. The Covid-19 virus was loosed upon the earth. But think back to how you reacted as the news was trickling in about this virus. I remember hearing about it and thinking “It’ll be like Ebola; they’ll get it under control. We’ll be fine.”

We were not fine. So many lives were lost. So many people who survived will have long lasting health issues. So many businesses closed, some forever. Thousands out of work. People at food banks who’d never gone before. Vulnerable people in lock-down. Profound grief.We were stopped in our tracks.

2. What went well during the event? It’s hard to ask these questions without thinking of the steps our government took or did not take (wherever you live), but let’s try to focus on the personal. What went well for you during the event? Did you use the lock-down time to better yourself with meditation and exercise and strengthening familial relationships? (You can slap me here, that’s fine.) Perhaps what went well was that you survived. You didn’t get sick. Or you got sick, but recovered. You protected your loved ones. You finally got to know your neighbor. Maybe your priorities shifted. ALL ANSWERS ARE FINE. Identify what went well for YOU.

3. What challenges arose? These answers will probably come easier. Perhaps it was monetary, perhaps you were out of work, or working less. Maybe you were challenged with working from home, or not being able to leave home in the early months of the pandemic. Things we had taken for granted, like picking up a few things at the market, suddenly became a challenge equal in our mind to crossing a mine field. We all developed pandemic anxiety.

Add to that, the social justice issues that arose as we grappled with the murder of George Floyd and so many other African-Americans. Then the misguided attacks on Asian-Americans as angry people looked for someone to blame for the loss of life and livelihood. Then, in America, a divisive election season left us unsure about the future of our democracy. Just when we thought we couldn’t take any more, in the midst of the holiday surge, January 6 happened and we once again watched the news in horror.

As the pandemic dragged on, and as we kept having surges, we had to find new sources of resilience inside ourselves. We exhausted ourselves and maybe comforted ourselves in unhealthy ways. (I don’t think it was just me.)

4. What can we learn from this?  What have you learned so far about yourself, and maybe about others in your life? How did you deal with lock-down? How did you react to mask mandates and vaccine opportunities? What is your pandemic lifestyle? Self-improvement and productivity, or sloth-like behavior and apathy? Did you go out of your way to help others? Did you need help but had a hard time asking for it? Did you discover that exercise was fundamental to your mental health or did you avoid it like, well, the plague? Was your faith challenged or strengthened? Personally, I could embody all of these dichotomies in a single afternoon! It is interesting, isn’t it, to examine who we became in the midst of an interminable disaster?

5. What would we do differently next time? No one likes this question, but the science points to there being many next times in the years to come. As climate change effects more species and strange viruses that would have stayed in the jungles get released, scientists say we will face more pandemics. We have no control over what the powers that be will do differently next time. But we do have control over ourselves. The one thing we can universally do is be healthier. A population of overweight, unhealthy people, is just a sponge for coronaviruses. The healthier we are, the more resistant we are to start with. But personally, what would you do differently next time? Move in with family to ride it out? Move away from family to ride it out? Be more cautious or less cautious? There are no wrong answers here, only applying what you’ve learned about yourself.

6. What now? This question is where I’m at these days. What now? What am I comfortable with moving forward? I’m vaccinated, but do I want to hug everyone I know who’s vaccinated? (Not everyone, no.) Do I want to go to an indoor event? (Depends.) Do I want to get on an airplane? (I don’t quite yet.) It’s important to decide what your comfort level is and stick to it. I met up with some friends recently who were all vaccinated and one woman simply said, “I’m not hugging yet.” And it was totally cool. It’s incredibly important right now to respect where others are on their scale of comfort! None of us have been through this before, so we really need to take it easy on each other. What we’re comfortable with now may change, but it may be a while.We’re all in a little different place on the journey.

So here we are, battered and bruised, exhausted but hopeful. Take a little time to pause and reflect on where you’ve been, how you handled it, and what you want for the future before you rush back onto the hamster wheel! Let’s breathe into the next chapter, taking baby steps, and armed with self-knowledge!

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.” ~ Anne Lamott

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