How to Maintain Some Normalcy During a Global Crisis

If you need some time away from your screens, I have some ideas for you.

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Where do I even start? In case you somehow missed it, the world is dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic. It is real, it is big and it is overwhelming. (Here is a link to people much smarter than I on the appropriate way to protect yourself and your community during this time). 

During a global event like this, it can become second nature to glue your face to your devices while trying to consume as much information as possible. I work in communications so this has been my life for the last week and a half. And I’ve already reached my limit. 

If you’ve spent an enormous amount of time online in the last little bit, or you’re still trying to find your feet in your new working-from-home situation to avoid the spread of the virus, or just general social distancing, I have some ideas on how you can stop staring at your phone. 

For the record, I am not suggesting you tune out all information online. That would actually be very harmful and dangerous. But, once you’ve reached the fifth hour of scrolling through your Twitter feed, you’re not really consuming any useful information. I’d argue you’re not really consuming any info at all at that point. But I also understand the impulse to want to know everything possible about a situation. Or, if you’re like me, using the internet as a way to numb your own experience so you don’t have to deal with what is really happening. 

After spending the last week practically glued to my devices, I got home from work yesterday, sat on the couch and stared off into the distance. 

I didn’t want to do that, or mean to do it actually, but I genuinely could not remember what I used to do for ‘fun’ that didn’t involve consuming information (social media, TV, news) on the internet. Right now, I’m not even looking for fun. I’m just looking for something to do that doesn’t involve my brain actively trying to process information or being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the situation.

And then I remembered something from the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy workbook I’ve been working through for my seasonal depression that I thought I would share here. (It goes without saying that I am not a mental health care provider, or a health care practitioner. If you’d like to learn more about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and if it’s right for you, please contact your health care provider. Maybe give them some space for a little while if they are on the front-lines of COVID-19). 

Part of the CBT program requires you to schedule activities for at least a week that forces you to do something enjoyable or accomplish something. This schedule is how I ended up doing a yoga class after work last week (virtually). I had scheduled it in the week before, and then when Monday night rolled around, I didn’t have a good reason to not do it, so I did it.

Now, in this time of COVID-19 we find ourselves in, I am not suggesting you schedule in activities to do. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that things can move rapidly and be beyond our control (this is not the case for slowing the speed of the virus. Social distancing people!). Having a schedule might do more harm and make you feel worse if you can't stick to it in the chaos that seems to be our current day-to-day reality.

However, what I wanted to share with you is the CBT framework for activities I’ve been working through, in case you are feeling overwhelmed and want to do something other than scroll through your social feeds. 

If you want to do something that doesn’t involve staring at your devices and respects the social distancing guidelines recommended by the Government of Canada, here are some ideas for you. 

Pleasurable Activities

These will differ for each person, but pleasurable activities are things that you find enjoyable to do, such as:

  • Playing with your pets.

  • Listening to music and having a dance party.

  • Playing a card or board game with your family (anything except Monopoly, that’s just asking for a family breakdown).

  • Knitting or crocheting something (check out Ravelry for lots of free patterns). 

  • Reading a book for fun (if you’re a normal person, and not like me, you probably have a book on your shelf that you’ve been meaning to open).

  • Going for a walk or a hike (making sure to maintain a 6ft distance from anyone else you see out).

  • Anything that helps you feel creative like drawing, sketching, or writing. 

Activities that Accomplish Something 

In my CBT program, I’ve realized I lean hard into this category. Doing things ‘just for fun’ does not come naturally to me. However, especially during this kind of global health crisis, accomplishing something positive, even if it’s really small, can help give you a sense of purpose when it feels like nothing makes sense. If this kind of thing is really turning you off right now, skip it. You don’t need to be ‘doing’ right now if you don’t want to. But, if you want to do some things, here are some ideas:

  • Organize your closet.

  • Declutter a room in your house (I will be tackling my basement).

  • Find a new recipe to try (again, you probably have a cookbook lying around that you’ve yet to crack).

  • Tackle a DIY project you’ve been putting off.

  • Repair some clothes that have sprung holes (literally all of my socks need darning).

Activities That Fit With Your Values

In a time when a lot of people are feeling isolated, and having their normal routines disrupted, doing an activity that fits your values can feel good. I’m making an exception for using technology in this category as it’s the safer option because of COVID-19. Things that fall into this category include:

  • Re-connecting with long-distance friends (because of where I live, all of my friends are long-distance so I’m already crushing this one). 

  • Checking in virtually on your older or vulnerable relatives. 

  • Finding something positive about your day, every day, even if it's the smallest thing in the world.

Given the situation we find ourselves in, it might be a natural impulse for some to hide away and not seek out their friends and family. If you know you have people like this in your life, I would encourage you to gently reach out to them in a digital way that seems appropriate to you. I know I’m the worst for falling off the radar when things get tough. Hiding is my go-to. So thank you to my friends who aren’t letting me fall off the face of the Earth. 

What You Can Do to Approach Things You’ve Been Avoiding

Don’t look at me like that. You know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re stuck inside because of COVID-19, now is literally the perfect time to tackle something you’ve been avoiding. Because, what the heck else are you going to do? But, that doesn’t mean you’ll just magically find the will to get it done. Especially during an event like this, we can feel paralyzed and not able to do anything, even if we want to. There can also be a sense of, why does any of this matter? What’s the point?  

I tend to be the same way. In order to help myself do things I’ve been avoiding, I will:

  • Ask for help when I don’t know what to do.

  • Express my feelings rather than take them out on those around me.

  • Not put off things that can be done in less than five minutes. 

Asking for help is a major one for me. If you are a caregiver in your work-life, or a parent, don’t be afraid to ask for help when appropriate. I know it sounds cliche AF, but you truly cannot help others if you do not take care of yourself first. 

I’m the type of person that likes to be kept busy in a crisis. It takes my mind off the chaos around me and lets me feel like I’m actually being useful in some way, even if that way is only useful to myself. If you want to use this time to NOT do stuff, that’s ok. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about not being super productive and getting everything off your to-do list. On the other hand, if you’re struggling to do anything, I hope you find this list a gentle reminder that you can start small, but have a big impact on your own or someone else’s life. 

Stay safe, friends. 

If you have any ideas on how to spend your time meaningfully during this pandemic, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

Image Credit: Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash