There is no doubt that many households have been thrown into various degrees of chaos because of the present pandemic that has afflicted our society. Covid-19 is not just any old disease like the flu or cold. We all know what having the flu or just a common cold is – sniffles, fever, chills, and aching muscles handled by lots of rest and fluids with a possible flu shot and antihistamines; and it passes.
Covid-19 is highly disruptive to our health, both physical and mental. With the stay home-stay safe directive from our government, we have been shut in with one another for a seemingly indefinite length of time. How can we sanely survive this imposition on our forced closeness with our families as “we get on each other’s nerves”.
There’s a thing called rituals that could be helpful. We are used to rituals – Thanksgiving with a family turkey dinner, 4th of July with fireworks, hot-dogs, and parties, New Year’s Eve with noise and drinks, etc. There are other rituals that are more common and less noticed – how we time using the bathroom in the morning, time for play, TV, and homework, chores around the house, each person pitching in.
With our new restrictions on not meeting friends or enjoying parties, we have to find new rituals. If you watched any TV during this time – there’s no doubt the TV has been on constantly – you probably saw how some neighborhoods celebrated birthdays by driving by with good wishes signs and honking. We are inventive people. In New York, people banged pots and pans in the evening to thank doctors, nurses, and first responders for their commitment.
Rather than just letting a day merely happen during this shut-down of our lives, it is important to establish new rituals, the implementation of timed and meaningful activities throughout the day. For stay-home students, it will call for learning time, reading one’s school books and doing assignments but also having recess built in. For single persons, it could be setting aside time to read, write in a diary, or spending dedicated time to meditation.
The point of these suggestions is that rituals set up the framework of our lives, giving us boundaries in the boundaryless, disruptive situation that we have been thrown into by covid-19. Whether it is a family or a single person, we all need boundaries that identify each person’s value in terms of relation to reality. Being limited in time and space can throw anyone into a kind of vacuum where one loses track of time and feels like life now is just wandering pointlessly through senseless waiting.
Without rituals and boundaries, confusion and chaos inflict insecurity and uncertainty on people who are isolated, exposing them to fear and worry. In this past March issue of Elemental, Markham Heid presented an excellent and timely article on what uncertainty does to the brain.
We want to be in control like driving the car or cooking a meal or doing our job. Just staying home to stay safe does not give us the control we crave in life. Setting up some perimeters in our lives at a time like this can truly keep us sane and in balance with others, especially with those with whom we live.