She's adapting to the new normal by leaning on the simpler parts of life.

Raven Ishak
September 06, 2020
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Mackenzie Dunn, HelloGiggles

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic first hit New York City, HelloGiggles' SEO Writer Mackenzie Dunn had no idea what was about to unfold in her home over the next few months—but then again, no one did. As someone used to a busy career in the media industry writing trend-based stories for brands like Domino, Woman’s Day, and Good Housekeeping and spending nights at drinks and events, Dunn had to seriously adjust when everything came to halt.

However, even though she saw with her own eyes how N.Y.C. changed due to the pandemic, she also had a first-hand experience of how residents rallied together to show up for one another. "We’ve seen our little enclave of this gigantic city come together when people needed it most," the 25-year-old explains. "Our block has a Facebook group that coordinated homemade mask drop-offs and grocery pick-up for those that could not get out. I was touched to have a neighbor throw me a mask she had made from her window. It was incredible to see."

And while others may consider New York to be "over", Dunn thinks that's far from the truth. "I’ve been hearing a lot of 'New York is dead' lately and I couldn’t disagree more. It has certainly felt different, but I don’t think it’ll ever be dead," she says. "Through this, I’ve been reminded of both the city’s resilience and my own, having seen the streets go from eerily empty to once again seeing people out and about. I’ve missed going into my office, seeing co-workers, and being able to access the city with ease, but I appreciate it all so much more now."

Things might be looking up for N.Y.C. as of late with fewer hospitalizations (418 total compare to 8549 in March), but it still has a long way to go. And one of the ways Dunn has been trying to adapt to this new normal is by leaning into the simpler parts of her day, like "looking forward to cooking dinner and watching a show with my boyfriend, calling my mom or best friend at the end of the day, going for my daily walk in Central Park," she says. "They’re not as glamorous or Instagram-worthy per se, but they’re little joys that make me feel content in a time where everything else can really feel chaotic."

For this week’s Self-Care Sunday, we spoke to Dunn to learn more about her mental health and how she's been staying connected as of late. Here are her go-to self-care rituals, plus advice for people who are having a hard time living in busy cities during the pandemic.

Mental Health

HelloGiggles (HG): How has the pandemic affected your mental health?

Mackenzie Dunn (MD): My partner and I each had our respective depressive bouts over the last few months, and we’ve had to learn to lean on each other and express our individual needs—but this has made us stronger as a couple. We’re both deeply committed to our jobs, which means our health (both mental and physical) and self-care can go out the window sometimes.

Having no separation between where we work and where we live has been particularly difficult. Mentally, I find I am stressed out just by the sight of my computer in the corner of my room. It’s incredibly hard to disconnect—especially in such a small space. Recently, I’ve committed to fully shutting my computer no later than 6:15 p.m., and setting limits on my phone for how long I can be on certain apps per day. Otherwise, my entire day from waking up to going to sleep can and would be consumed by screen time. Not great for my mental health, but I am working on it. 

HG: What are some go-to mental health practices you've done that you suggest others do to help feel better?

MD: As someone who has benefited from therapy in the past, I find it really helpful to talk to others on a daily basis. I make it a point to call a friend or family member every night either before or after dinner—even if it’s just to talk about something interesting I saw or reminisce on a nostalgic memory. This not only helps me clear my own head but gives them the time and space to do so, too. 

HG: Are there any wind-down practices you do on Sundays to relieve possible Sunday Scaries?

MD: I physically can’t relax unless I know all my ducks are in a row for the week ahead, so on Sunday nights, I’ll write down my plan for Monday morning with all the important tasks I need to complete in order of importance and leave it on my desk. I psych myself out a lot when it comes to work-related tasks. I always get everything done, but I tend to build things up in my head as being worse or harder than they are. Seeing it on paper is really helpful for me. 

Because of this, I also find it really hard to wind down and go to sleep. Lighting a candle, doing a five-minute-guided yoga routine from FitOn on my phone, and then reading for 20 minutes helps immensely with this. 

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Physical Practices

HG: What physical activities have you been doing lately on Sundays?

MD: I’m really lucky that in this big, urban city, I live right next to Central Park. No more than two days have gone by in quarantine that I have not gone for a walk in that park. Sometimes, I walk at a leisurely pace and chat on the phone, while other times I get my heart rate up by going faster or taking a longer walk. Getting out makes me feel productive, and the change of scenery helps me appreciate my little apartment more when I get back. 

Community Care

HG: How have you been staying connected with loved ones during this time?

MD: Community care is my self-care, and I always make it a point to call or text to check in with my people on the weekends. Recently, I’ve been able to slowly expand my “bubble” to include family and close friends and see some of those people in-person, too. On Sundays, we sometimes connect in Central Park for our weekly park meet-up, but other times, I take the day to regroup and get ready for the next week. 

HG: As a writer, how have you been trying to engage in community care lately?

MD: My entire job as an SEO writer is to stay on the pulse of what kind of questions and information people are searching for, so it has been interesting to see the needs of the HelloGiggles community change over the last six months. There was a time where I was writing tons of coronavirus content, but now, the need has shifted to more feel-good and even future-focused stories. People want something to look forward to, so whether that’s what's new on Netflix this fall or how to plan a fun quarantine engagement, I try to keep in touch with what’s needed at the present moment.

Personal Joys

HG: Do you have a self-care routine (or products!) you’ve gravitated toward recently?

MD: I just bought a modern calligraphy notebook and pens which I could not be more excited about because it’s a hobby I really enjoy and most importantly, involves zero screens.

Part of my Sunday self-care routine also involves deep cleaning my apartment. Living in a small space all day every day can get messy, and cleaning makes me feel in control of something. I like to blast my favorite music while I’m doing it.

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HG: What is the one thing you always make sure to do on Sundays that brings you personal joy?

MD: Every single Sunday, my boyfriend and I walk to the outdoor farmer’s market that wraps around the Museum of Natural History. Usually, I’ll stop for coffee at my favorite local place on the way. It’s a way for us to have some semblance of a routine, feel connected to our community, and just get out of the house. It has become my most favorite weekly tradition of all. 

HG: What is your advice for people who are having a hard time living in urban environments like N.Y.C. during a pandemic?

MD: Get out of your apartment! I feel like I have to remind my New York City people of this more than anyone else because living in an apartment building (especially high-rises) can make you feel so disconnected from the outside world. It also—admittedly—takes more energy to walk down five flights of stairs or wait for your elevator to come than it does to walk out your door in the suburbs. But the second you step out of your building and get some fresh air, I promise it will be worth it.

If it feels daunting to get out, my advice is to make a habit out of it so it seems less like a trip. I find that getting outside gets me out of my own head. And when I see people on my street or in the park, I feel a lot less alone and a lot less glum about the future of city life.