This has been a year of many tests.

Or really, it’s been an era of many tests. With the arrival of 2022, we’ll soon enter our third year of living through a global pandemic. Learning how to be, let alone thrive, with the pressures, anxieties, and restrictions of our day will continue to be an ongoing challenge.

So, to close out 2021, we checked in with six people with ties to the Philadelphia region to see how they’ve kept going. We asked each what’s held them together, as well as what tactics they plan to use to support themselves in 2022. Here’s what they shared. Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

What kept you together in 2021, and why did those practices serve you?

Danna Bodenheimer, founder of Walnut Psychotherapy Center: “During 2021, I did a lot of work to reassure myself that it was OK to have a baseline of functioning that was below what I had become accustomed to before the pandemic. This required a lot of self talk and therapy. I kept finding myself disappointed in my own depleted capacities, only to remember — over and over again — that I don’t totally understand the toll that this is all taking on my nervous system. It has become much harder to feel fueled by any internal resources.

“I have mostly relied on my partner, my therapist and my immediate family, and that feels dramatically different from the many ways that I was able to get and find support before everything started to shift into this new way of being.”

Neil Bardhan, director of Applied Storytelling at First Person Arts and executive director of Broad Street Review: “In 2021, I was grateful for an incredible, extensive support network that kept me together. My marriage and family got stronger. Friends stepped up. Colleagues near and far came through in many ways. (Yes, I enjoy a good networking Zoom over coffee!) I also have a therapist whom I’ve had sessions with for five years, whose guidance has been worth every penny and every minute. Whether I was dealing with a profound loss in my family or a minor inconvenience at work, I knew that I had people that I could check in with: ‘Hey, can I vent to you for a few minutes?’”

Andrea “Philly” Walls, artist, curator and founder of the Museum of Black Joy: “My art practice kept me together in 2021. Being able to focus on creativity and collaborations with other artists was particularly fulfilling. Even with Zoom as the main gathering space, I was able to deepen relationships with artists I admire and to build community around the theme of Black Joy. Approaching life with an intention to seek and uplift joy as an act of resistance and a tool for endurance has been gratifying. It allows me to shift, more easily, from a state of constant struggle and despair to one of radical self-acceptance and grace under pressure.”

Luis Garcia, influencer, Philadelphia native and founder of Milan Candles in Irvine, Calif.: “My biggest accomplishment in 2021 has been the launch of my new company Milan Candles. Beyond our amazing candles, our purpose is what drives and sustains me every single day. Milan’s mission is to shine a light in the darkness for those who need it most by providing support, training, and resources for individuals impacted by sex trafficking through our 3 Rs approach (Readiness, Rescue and Rehabilitation).”

Trapeta Mayson, poet laureate of Philadelphia for 2020-21: “I was intentional about maintaining my peace of mind. I worked to block out stressors that impacted my peace. I monitored my intake of negativity and tried to stay away from it.”

[Note: Here are some of the care practices Mayson listed, edited and condensed for space.]

  • Gave back as much as I could: Kept up with my volunteer role on my local library Friends board and started a project with modest funds to educate seven young students in Liberia.

  • Gave myself grace, lots of it.

  • Read a lot of poetry, especially the poems submitted to my Healing Verse Philly Phone Line.

  • Kept working and staying active.

  • Kept my faith, in people and in a force greater than me.

Andrew Abeyta, psychology professor at Rutgers University-Camden: “My perspective, as an existential psychologist, is identifying and holding on to things that give life meaning and purpose, [that] can help people overcome even the direst of circumstances. My research team and I refer to people’s ability to discover and maintain a sense of purpose in life as existential agency, and find that existential agency is a resource that helps people live healthy and productive lives and persevere in the face of adversity.

“For example, in my research we had undergraduate students reflect on how education gives them a purpose and found that this exercise inspired confidence in the students that they could successfully accomplish their educational and career goals. I have tried to apply what I learned in this research in my own life and career and think that this has got me through 2021.”

What self-care practices are you planning for yourself in 2022 and why are you looking forward to those plans?

Luis Garcia: “As a father of 3 daughters, it’s important to me to help create a world where freedom, safety, and hope are guaranteed and not just ideals. And in 2022, I plan to take Milan to the next level with our community because working towards the greater good and creating a legacy beyond profits is a form of self-care for me.”

Andrew Abeyta: “For 2022, I hope to be even more effortful in cultivating existential agency. I felt like I lived much of 2021 in survival mode and never stopped to do basic self-care things like unplugging from work/email and eating right and exercising regularly. I think if we take the time to remind ourselves that these self-care practices are meaningful and have their purpose, [that] could help us prioritize them. So often we have thoughts like, ‘Oh, I should really go for a run,’ but then don’t follow through because we switch our focus on what we think at the time are more important or pressing needs, like being more productive at work.

“When I am having trouble getting out of bed to go for a morning jog, I remind myself of how exercising regularly helps me to accomplish important work goals. Overall, I am hoping that this practice of identifying and reminding myself of the purpose and meaning of self-care can help me to finally get out of survival mode and live a more balanced life.”

Neil Bardhan: “I have several practices I’m trying to explore in 2022. For Christmas, my wife and I received a sunlight therapy lamp that I can’t wait to incorporate on winter mornings when I’m also writing my morning pages, reading for pleasure, and setting goals for the day. We’re trying to take walks in the woods more often — Natural Lands preserves and FDR Park’s Woodlands do wonders as a break from South Philly concrete! And, as always, I aim to spend some quality time each day in my kitchen, trying new cookbooks.”

Trapeta Mayson: “I will do much of what I’ve been doing in 2022 because it has worked for me.

  • I will sleep more … I’m getting serious about my sleep routine and will work to create an awesome space for rest and respite.

  • I hope things calm down in the world because I want to travel again. I want to find new adventures.

  • I am embarking on an awesome project with poet Yolanda Wisher called ConsenSIS ! It’s going to be amazing and it will provide space and time for reflecting on the joys of poetry and uplifting Black woman poets.

  • I will write more poems and embrace what life has in store. I will live each day with purpose and will be grateful to be alive.

  • I will continue to have faith… bigger than a mustard seed.

I look forward to these plans because I am interested in experiencing life fully despite the limitations of the pandemic and other factors. It is an overwhelming space we’re all in right now. It continues to be tough, but if we work together, we can possibly grow and heal together.”

Andrea Walls: “In 2022, I plan to build upon this framework of joy as a ritual practice, using it as a kind of superpower. I am preparing to center myself in this practice and allow the things that do not serve my well-being to be deprioritized. I am also looking forward to putting together a team to help support my artistic goals in the coming year and letting go of the idea that I have to do everything myself, which is an exhausting premise. The tagline I have relied on recently is, ‘forward with joy.’ Regardless of where I am or what is happening, I am able to calibrate my breath and modulate my demeanor with this internalized phrase: “forward with joy …” It helps remind me that there is always a kind way forward from any situation and if I consider joy in the process and offer grace as the basis for resolution, I can move closer to the way of life that will sustain me and my community.”

Danna Bodenheimer: “I don’t have any self-care practices planned for 2022, mainly because my main goal is to continue to tolerate the fluidity of daily life and to not count on any one way that things will go. I imagined I would be in my office in 2022, that no longer feels true for the near future, at least. I planned to reengage in group exercise, and again, that doesn’t feel like a safe option. My biggest goal is to continue to surrender to the deep humanity and humility that is required in not knowing what’s next. And to let myself go to bed early, because that truly does help.”