Wash your hands! File picture
In this article, John Brennan, occupational therapist, presents a framework and some ideas from an occupational therapy perspective that will help us through these strange times.
Undoubtedly the COVID crisis has turned our lives around in ways we never thought imaginable. Patterns of habits and interests, roles and connections have been altered overnight in an almost magical manner – like a rabbit disappearing in a puff of smoke.
In Ireland we are buffered from some of this shock this causes by a strong sense of social solidarity and the welfare state. Indeed some people I have spoken to are adapting to this situation by being a little thankful for it as it has forced them to jump off the bandwagon and appreciate all that we have. Personally I am thankful to COVID for creating a situation where my family now sit for dinner every evening and our townland is once again filled with the sound of children playing as opposed to the din of cars scurrying from activity to activity.
However the bandwagon provides a routine and pattern that is very important to us as humans. It provides some level of certainty and security and acts like a brain duvet meaning we don’t have to think all of the time.
What has jumped into this vacuum are endless suggestions of what we should be doing with our spare time – teach our children; learn a language; start an open university course; do online exercise classes; participate in camogie and football challenges; do mindfulness; learn to knit; tidy our homes etc.,etc,..
Relax – it’s a pandemic we don’t “have to” do anything other than keep our distance and wash our hands!
In my work as an occupational therapist we often with patients have to make a distinction between things we “could do” and things we “Should do”. Something you could do is something you have a strong element of choice over – e.g. “I could participate in an online camogie challenge but I couldn’t be bothered”! Something you should do is a thing where there is a strong obligation upon you to do and probably not very nice consequences if you don’t e.g. “I should do the shopping today because if I don’t I will go hungry”.
Remember the only real 'should' at the moment that applies to us all in this crisis are the following:
1. You should keep your distance
2. You should wash your hands.
My work has also taught me that people do adapt to very difficult life changing circumstances that are permanent. For the majority of us this new reality will be transient.
Studies in occupational therapy look at what it is that people do to adapt to sudden life changes and perhaps in this crisis we can use some of this approach as opposed to feeling guilty about not participating in whatever new challenge is taking over the airwaves.
It boils down to five things. People who adapt well to sudden life changes:
1. Do things that “centre” them i.e. They do simple things that are repetitive and calming e.g. washing the dishes or cleaning a press
2. Do things that help them contemplate e.g. sit in the sun, meditate, listen to children playing, and listen to the birds sing.
3. Do things that feel creative e.g. plant the garden, cook a meal, scribble a picture, write an article like this one!
4. Do things that help them connect and create a sense of belonging e.g. ring a friend, reminisce on old football matches, have a meal with family, shout across the fields to some neighbours.
5. Do things that contribute to the world at large e.g. staying at home, washing hands, dropping a note to an isolated neighbour, collect some messages for a friend.
Getting a nice mix of these activities will help us to get through. How we mix these things and in what quantity and type is completely up to ourselves…..but remember the difference between could and should.