If you’re processing this period of uncertainty remotely like I am, you’re experiencing ecstatically productive highs and incredibly overwhelming lows. I’ve started countless creative projects, cluttering all available surfaces in my parent’s home in Upstate New York. However, I’ve lacked the motivation or ambition to finish them. Half painted flower pots act as a centerpiece on our kitchen table, mocking me, as I lay on the floor, contemplating all of the pain in the world. In a “coming of age” movie-like sprawl, some days, I don’t have the energy to get off the floor, watching as the shadows of the flowerpots elongate on the floor. Another day passes. Was it Tuesday? Was it Friday? Did I eat lunch today? Did I shower? How long have I been wearing this sock?
I am temporarily furloughed and I am a creature of routine. If you knew me, you’d agree that I have the perfect personality to fall into a pattern of frenzy during a period of stillness. I’m a planner, do-er, and a list-maker. I have lived much of my life feeling extremely guilty for not being more “productive” and let me be the first to say, reality slapped me in the face. I’ve been forced to confront some of my biggest demons, those who strive to be the “best” and succeed. I’ve had to redefine my relationship with relaxation, and with that, I found joy in slower activities.
If you are anything like me; a fast-paced, Type-A, New York City living young woman who is extremely high achieving and quite unforgiving of herself, maybe you’ll find solace in these activities that reminded me, productivity means something different to everyone. Maybe you won’t want to do any of these activities and that is perfectly okay! There are far too many lists bombarding us on social media and news outlets of what we “should” be doing. In a time of empathy, grant yourself what you gift to others. Listen to your body, your mind, and your heart. Take care of yourself–maybe you will find joy in unexpected places.
Cultivate a Fire-Escape Victory-Gardens
Throughout periods of uncertainty, victory gardens have served as peace of mind and a unique source of agricultural stability for Americans. Popularized during World War II and nearly seven decades later, the descendants of those resourceful patriots are now are planting their own seeds of certainty.
While space can be limited and lucrative in cities, window box planters offer a unique chance to create your own source of independence. From tomatoes to herbs, microgreens to salad greens, nurturing your own garden provides a source of stress relief.
Alongside the mental and emotional benefits, growing your own produce provides an opportunity to manage the whole process, from seed to plate. Often, nutrients are lost during the preservation process. By growing your own vegetables, herbs, or fruits, you may eliminate an extra trip to the grocery store–an errand we are all limiting during this uncertain time. For many of us, we can regain some sort of sense of control by creating a project such as a garden, choosing the soil, the seeds, the watering regiment. While we may not be able to currently enjoy the sunlight as we’d wish, our seedlings can. If you are looking to start your own victory garden, please consider purchasing products from your local small business.
Enrich your Resume-Friendly Skills
In a time of deep economic uncertainty, I’ve found myself wondering how I can better my professional self. I recognize the privilege I have to shelter in place and work from home and acknowledge if I were to fully lose my career, versus my temporary furlough, that privilege would no longer be mine.
With that in mind, I have been spending time enriching skillsets that will strengthen my professional assets. With so many free services offered, from LinkedIn Learning to Duolingo, there are plenty of ways to strengthen your professional appeal. By envisioning what your dream job would look like, it may become easier to understand what skill sets need to be developed.
Move! Dance! Shimmy!
There is no doubt that motivation may come and go throughout this period. When I feel sluggish and lethargic, I try my hardest to put on some joyous music and embrace the soon-to-be endorphin rush from a home workout. I will admit, many days, I keep sweatpants on and find myself walking to the refrigerator rather than the yoga mat I have laid out. While ice cream will provide short term happiness, I do understand that a quick core series or back series will grant me longer-lasting fuel to push me through the day. It is all about balance! Incredibly, the studios I previously found myself sweating the hardest in; Y7, Box & Flow, New York Pilates, are all offering Instagram Live sessions, online free trials to their workouts. Take advantage of these services, and if you have the means, support the instructors that are donating their time to keep you moving.
If you find it difficult to find the motivation to stay present for a whole workout, may I suggest some dancing to get the body moving? Companies such as Outdoor Voices are hosting movement events through Zoom throughout this turbulent time. With events such as Dance Cardio or Endorphin Boost, these events can be a little less intimidating than a committing to a fifty-minute full-body workout, and will still give you a rush of positivity.
If you are unable to get your body moving during this time, as every unique body moves differently, consider “working out” your mind. Meditation can extremely effective and important during periods of uncertainty. Sites such as Headspace are offering free sessions to help us through this time. In a partnership with Governor Cuomo, Headspace is launching a special segment of meditation entitled “NY State of Mind”, to “help you find some time and space as you weather this storm”. Make sure to take care of your body, mind, and soul during these times. By strengthing yourself, you can be a more able support system for those around you.
Get to Know Your Oven
I have always been under the impression that baking is for others, not just for yourself. In a time where a birthday cake falls to an audience of one, baking bread seemingly has fallen to an audience of millions. If you’ve scrolled through social media at all over the last few weeks, chances are you have seen some sort of post about homemade sourdoughs or loaves of failed challah bread. While not all turn out picture-perfect, there is something glamorous and luxurious about the time-consuming process of baking bread from scratch at an hour you would normally find yourself behind a desk. It requires patience, energy, and scientific control. Budget-friendly and aggression-releasing, fresh bread saves you money, provides an outlet for bottled emotions, and leaves you with a loving product that YOU made!
As we pace between the walls that protect us, it is hard to not feel the effect on our levels of happiness. When you are stripped of factors that form your identity; your family, your friends, your job, your social life, and your hobbies, what else defines you? What makes you happy? What is happiness?
Professor Laurie Santos, a Professor of Psychology at Yale University has been answering these questions and many more since 2018 within her course, The Science of Well Being. Now offered online, her extremely successful free course available on Coursera has seen over 631,980 new enrollments within the March alone, for over a total of 1,153,744 students seeking her wisdom since January 2020.
Professor Santos reveals misconceptions about happiness, annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do, and the research that can help us change our mindsets around our well-being. With weekly challenges, she encourages you to develop methods to increase your own happiness and build more productive habits, a practice we could all use at this time.
I’ve found adding some level of structure throughout my weeks, such as a course with assignments, has helped motivate me to stay accountable. I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t stayed within every deadline for myself. I’m sure that within the coming months, I will miss plenty more of my “deadlines” I’ve set for myself, and for the first time in my life, I am realizing that is okay. Growth is far from linear, and as Professor Santos reveals, happiness can come from many different sources, unique to each of us.
Writing Letters to People We Love
I’ve always been a bit of a hopeless romantic when it comes to handwritten notes. In a time where admiration and affection can only be expressed between Instagram comments, Hinge notifications, one-dimensional text conversations, or a lagged FaceTime call, there is something special about receiving a physical reminder of love. For those of us who express their love through physical touch, this period can be unusually taxing. I’ve found solace in spending my time crafting beautiful cards to send to my loved ones, reminding them of their value, beauty, strength, and intelligence. Utilizing materials found within our apartments, this can be a healthy way to express emotions that may be bottled within, all the while staying safely out of stores. In a time where we all feel lonely, a little love in the form of a handwritten note goes a long way.
Regardless, we are privileged to be experiencing such an emotional roller coaster. For those of us able to stay home and shelter during this period of turbulence, we have been granted time to process emotions, stay productive, or be as stagnant as our emotions demand of us. Embrace the emotions, and process however you must. Regardless of your productivity levels, remember that many of us have been spending long hours caring for children, cooking and providing meals, washing an excess of dishes, maintaining homestays, disinfecting multiple surfaces throughout the day. This doesn’t even address the work of all of our essential workers, the brave men, and women at the forefront of this global pandemic, robbed of their time to process the trauma we all face.
Here are a few ways you can help your local community:
American Red Cross: Due to the cancellation of blood drives, the American Red Cross faces a severe blood shortage. Healthy individuals are needed to donate now to maintain a sufficient supply. Make an appointment here or call 1-800-RED-CROSS to find a local donation site.
The Bowery Mission: The Bowery Mission serves homeless and hungry New Yorkers and provides services that meet their immediate needs and transforms their lives from poverty and hopelessness to hope. During the coronavirus emergency, the Bowery Mission remains committed to the health, safety, and well-being of all. Our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness don’t have the option to “stay at home” to avoid risk to themselves or others. You can donate here or volunteer here.
Feeding America: With a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, donations to its covid-19 response fund will help food banks across the country support the most vulnerable communities affected by the pandemic. You can donate here or find your local food bank here.
First Book: Donations will help deliver 7 million books to children in need who don’t have Internet access or home libraries to keep learning. You can donate here.
No Kid Hungry: Deploys funds to ensure access to free meals continues for children in need, especially with schools closed. It is providing $5 million in emergency grants immediately — with more to come — to help schools and community groups feed kids during the outbreak and making sure families know how to find meals while schools are closed. You can donate here.
Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation: Directs money to organizations leading on-the-ground efforts in the restaurant community and provides zero-interest loans to businesses to maintain payroll during closure or reopen once the crisis has passed. It will establish a relief fund for individual restaurant workers facing economic hardships or health crises as a direct result of covid-19. You can donate here.
These are just a few organizations that are giving back to our communities during this turbulent time. Every community is different. Contact your local officials to find out ways you can get involved.
Be mindful and empathic during this time, with your loved ones, your strangers, and yourself. Think of this as a virtual hug, granting you permission to be as slow during this period as you are able to be.
Feature Image via Victoria Morris