The contours of our lives have changed in the coronavirus lockdown or shelter in place. For now, we don’t have the regular rhythms and rituals which give shape to our days. Without the activities which normally punctuate our waking hours, we are faced with a shapeless mass of time which we need to mould into a recognisable and manageable form.
And we are doing so well at it. Each day we are increasingly aware of the importance of caring for our own and others’ physical and mental health. We are embracing advice to structure the days with a variety of pursuits, and people are generously offering their skill and experience to help us to continue the activities which bring us pleasure and which nourish our well-being.
Find your own way
If you don’t want to throw yourself into schemes and projects, it’s OK. Don’t feel guilty. Hats off to those who will emerge from this isolated life with leaner, fitter physiques, fluent in ten languages, expert in medieval art, having written the equivalent of War and Peace, with competition-level cookery and baking skills, spouting homeschooling theories to challenge Piaget…enough. If you prefer to just look and marvel at what’s on offer, that’s fine.
You know the theory — structure and varied activities will help. Work out your own. There’s no pressure.
Don’t drive yourself to achieve goals
Forget about your personal or professional timeline for now. Normal life has been put on hold. You can’t influence the future. You can be prepared for it, but it will be different from the one you planned. We will emerge from this experience changed in so many ways. Don’t lose sight of what you want to achieve, but perhaps couch it in gentler, broader terms, leaving room for the surprising discoveries you might make about yourself and your future life.
Take care of those working from home
Or WFH, as we now call it. The acronym is useful but strange for those who have worked from home for years without being identified by a snappy catchphrase. It’s pleasantly distracting to consider the tricks of maintaining a professional appearance for video conferencing (never did shoes matter so little) and to explore the WFH niche fashion, beauty, office decor and furniture industry (cashmere lounge pants! juice cleanse! bamboo laptop stands!) which has burgeoned in the last few weeks.
But this way of working is different for those forced into it in the present circumstances. It isn’t their choice, and their home situation is probably not conducive to effectiveness. They might be temperamentally unsuited to remote working. But no matter what our home circumstances or personal dispositions, everyone is making this transition at a time of great anxiety.
Treat your WFH colleagues with care and respect
- Don’t assume that the bright face they put on for the Zoom meeting reflects their real feelings.
- Don’t put pressure on each other. Emails and messages sent at unsocial hours were never a good thing. They are totally unacceptable now.
- Choose your words thoughtfully. The tinny, abrasive, gung-ho language of the workplace, jarring at the best of times, strikes a discordant note in these tense, uneasy times. At the moment, our homes are all we’ve got. Don’t invade them.
Accept your emotional dips
It’s all right to feel shaky and unstable at times. You think you’re doing fine, then out of the blue, you feel wobbly and tearful. Don’t try to fight it. Sit calmly for a moment, breathe slowly and rhythmically, and put your feelings into words.
- I’m scared
- I’m worried
- I’m panicky
Say the words to yourself, or to somebody else. Don’t try to justify them, don’t try to brush them aside. It’s quite likely that you will feel better after a walk, or a cup of tea, or a chat with a friend, but this doesn’t mean that your feelings weren’t valid. They are a part of your experience. You can own them.
We all respond differently to the new soundscape. Some people find it eerie and unsettling, others delight in the more peaceful environment and the opportunities to listen to the sounds of birds and wildlife. The noise of children playing in gardens is strangely comforting. And, of course, in some countries, people are brought together by music, or by the communal clapping and cheering for all the medical staff and industry workers who are keeping us going through these dark times.
You could try giving silence a chance. Our instinct is to drown it out by finding something to listen to. Being quiet for a few moments gives you a short respite from all the voices, inside your head and outside it, clamouring for attention.
Allow yourself to grieve
One day, there will be a public and formal acknowledgement of the losses we have sustained, a time for a nation to collectively mourn and honour the dead. But feelings can’t be put on hold. You might feel suddenly overwhelmed by a general feeling of loss and of grief, unrelated to your personal experience. Don’t try to suppress it. It’s a sign of our shared humanity.
Find your own source of light
There could be one thing you do, a tiny ritual you observe, with others or by yourself, which brings you peace, or solace.
Lines from T S Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday offer a moment of withdrawal, contemplation and hope.
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still