Simcha Fisher: 15 ways to help others (and yourself) during the pandemic

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When there’s a disaster, many people feel the impulse to rush out and do something right away to help. But to help in this pandemic, we must stay in, don’t do things, don’t go places.

The isolation of COVID-19 has added a whole new layer of anxiety and sense of helplessness.

But there are still ways we can ease each other’s suffering as we wait out the pandemic. As Catholics, we have a duty to seek out ways to help, if we can; and as mere humans, we will benefit emotionally if we find ways to act. Here are some concrete things you can do to help others, and yourself, while the crisis lasts:

  1. On the rare occasions you do leave the house, before you go, check in with people who are fully quarantined, or with people who are only social distancing, but may have trouble going out safely (the elderly, or the sole caretaker of young kids or a disabled person, for instance). Let them know you can pick up what they need — groceries, library books, a prescription — and drop it off on their porches or mailbox.
  2. When you cook, consider making extra and freezing it, in case someone local falls ill and needs an easy meal. Just be careful to observe best hygienic practices!
  3. If you’re getting a lot of food and goods delivered to your house, remember to offer a hefty tip. Delivery people are run ragged lately, and the constant exposure to lots of people is wearing on their physical and mental. Consider adding a friendly note of thanks and encouragement for keeping the world running.
  4. Set up a schedule among your family, friends, or neighbours to call vulnerable people every single day, to make sure they’re still healthy and not languishing from loneliness. Don’t just try to remember to check in, and don’t assume someone else is doing it. Make it a true part of your routine (and maybe assign one person the role of ‘daily call reminder’) so no one falls through the cracks.
  5. If being homebound is driving you to de-clutter and organise, keep an eye out for items that might be useful to other people, and offer them up for the taking on your local social media neighborhood group. Your old cell phone might make a huge difference to someone who’s more isolated than you. Likewise for art and craft supplies, books, DVDs. One friend published a list of things that she would leave on her porch, labelled and sanitised, for anyone who wants them.
  6. If anyone among your friends and neighbors has allergies or special dietary requirements — celiacs who can’t eat gluten, or people with severe nut allergies, or babies who need certain kinds of formula — ask them if they especially need certain foods. When you do your shopping, keep an eye out for these items that go in and out of stock quickly, and snag a few. At very least, don’t buy these special items yourself unless you truly have a medical need for them.
  7. Many of these tips depend on some kind of local social networking. If there’s not already a neighbourhood (or church, or school) group in your area, start one!
  8. Social distancing doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors; it just means you can’t get close. If you do go out for a walk, consider making the outdoors more cheerful for people who need cheering up in this desolate time.Some friends are ‘yarn bombing’ the trees outside their house, to make the neighborhood more colorful for anyone passing by. You can also leave cheery or cheeky messages and pictures in chalk on the sidewalks, to make people strolling through deserted streets feel more connected.Some parents are setting up “social distancing scavenger hunts” in their neighbourhoods. They all agree to put a certain picture or design in their windows each day — a rainbow, a blue flower, a smiley face — and kids headed out for some fresh air can have the fun of hunting down all the houses with the sign of the day.
  9. Consider praying The Angelus at noon, if not also at 6am and 6pm. It’s a very old practice that’s fallen out of favour in modern times, but if Catholics are going to be home at noon anyway, it’s a great time to pick it up again. It only takes a few minutes, and can be learned easily. Stop what you’re doing and remind yourself that, even though we’re isolated, we’re not abandoned. Everyone praying at the same time helps us feel more connected to God and to each other.
  10. If you have a lot of time on your hands, consider offering one-on-one virtual story time to parents who could use a break from entertaining their kids. It will take some organisation, but it could be fun for kids, helpful to parents, and gratifying for people who miss the days of reading aloud to little ones.
  11. Turn to art. If we’re forced to slow down, let’s make the most of it. I’ve started #withDraw2020, a daily art challenge with prompts for each day, and every kind of artist, from kids to amateurs to professionals is welcome to take up the challenge. Several friends are using the daily prompts to write poetry, as well.
  12. Make a resolution to be encouraging, not discouraging, as you interact with others. Try to avoid policing each other’s emotions. We may not be able to offer concrete help, but at least we can refrain from criticising the way other people are managing their stress and fear.If you think someone is being overly fearful, or overly flippant, or is making jokes that are too dark for your taste, just move along. If college students, athletes, or performers are mourning the loss of their moment in the sun, let them mourn, and don’t shame them with horror stories about people who’ve suffered worse deprivation. Let people manage the stress in their own way, as you manage it in yours.
  13. Remember there is life beyond the virus, and help other people remember. It’s tempting to talk only and endlessly about the pandemic. It’s important to share medical information, but it’s also important for our mental health to remember there’s more to the world.If you have a cute baby video or a funny animal picture, a silly joke, a lovely photo, a sweet song, an intriguing story, or absolutely anything you can share to get the world’s mind off its troubles, now’s the time to share it.
  14. Many parents are afraid their kids will develop PTSD or other emotional problems from being exposed to a time of trial, deprivation, and fear; so they’re going out of their way to introduce pleasant new activities, so their kids will have some happy associations with this time of COVID-19.You can do this for yourself, too. Many things are out of our hands, but we can give ourselves the gift of being intentional with our time. If the hours are long, don’t just kill time; use it to take care of yourself. Exercise, pray, bake, sing, draw, knit, read, hone a skill or meditate. Think back on the things you used to enjoy before you got so busy, and figure out if there’s a way you can return to them.Be good to each other, and be good to yourself. We’ll come out stronger on the other side.


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