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Priorities in the Time of Pandemic: Avoiding busy-ness during the Covid-19 Crisis

The Covid-19 shut down in Canada has brought a lot of things to the surface in just a week. Thankfully, one of the main things I have noticed is how kind and creative people are. Almost instantly, people were finding ways to connect: sending out encouraging messages and lists of things to do and offering a host of free activities to boost our spirits, such as online courses, tours, concerts, yoga classes, workout classes, etc.

Another thing I have noticed is how good we are at keeping ourselves busy. I have been struggling to decide whether this is a good or a bad thing, and have settled on the idea that, like most things, it is good in moderation, bad if overindulged. If you are someone prone to rumination, keeping yourself busy is likely a skillful way of managing during this difficult time. In fact, all of us need to engage in positive activities so we don’t sit around worrying all day.

We are fortunate that there are so many offerings out there to help us stay calm, fit and engaged. However, somewhat ironically, the availability of all of this wonderful stuff has been making me feel a bit anxious. I would love to attend a virtual daily workout, take a virtual tour of the Louvre, get my kids ahead in math, take an online anatomy course, listen to that podcast everyone is talking about, binge watch that amazing series. However, as there are more and more opportunities and experiences out there (or, at least they are being brought more and more to my attention), I am feeling a bit defeated as I can’t possibly get to all of them.

I know I am going to look back at this statement after this social isolation thing has gone on for a while and cringe, but here it is: when I first heard about the fact that everything was shutting down and we were being asked to stay home, I felt a sense of relief. I do not want to be blasé about how horrible this situation is. I know there are people sick and dying and people on the front lines working day and night to contain this thing. I was not happy about the situation. However, the relief was still there. I saw this as an opportunity for me and my family to put aside our usual schedule and do things that called to us, and it was…for about 3 days. I did some work, but without a sense of deadline pressure. We did science experiments, baked, read and watched documentaries together.

We are still doing all of these things. However, my busy brain has begun to take over. I find myself wondering how we can fit more into our days, how we can be more productive, how we can accomplish more. “This is the chance of a lifetime,” I say to myself, “You can learn all of those things you always wanted to learn, teach your kids all of those things they should know, read all of the classics you always meant to read, take that course you really should take”, etc. Suddenly this slow time doesn’t feel so slow. I looked at my schedule the other day and it was just as full as it would be at any other time.

There is real fear and anxiety out there about real things, and for some reason, I am manufacturing my own anxiety about needing to improve myself and accomplish things. I am taking this time that could be used for appreciating what is truly important in life and cramming it full of activities. When I realize this, I am tempted to berate myself about how ridiculous I am: people out there are dying but you are fussing because you can’t figure out which free coding course to sign your son up for?!

Then I take a deep breath because, while I am ridiculous, so are all humans. Filling our days and being productive so we don’t have to think about the big things is so human. If we slow down enough, those big questions we generally keep at bay through activity—Who am I? What is important to me? What do I want to do with my “one wild and precious life”?[1]—begin to sneak in. These are scary questions because they make us realize that (spoiler alert) our time here on earth is short, that we don’t necessarily know ourselves all that well and that we might not always be acting in accordance with who we are and what we value.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t take advantage of the offerings out there but we should ask ourselves why we are choosing to engage in certain activities: am I doing this because I feel I should or because I feel called to it? Of course, it is not always bad to engage with some of these “shoulds,” but they shouldn’t take over. I would encourage all of us to also do things that allow us to connect with ourselves and others and to value and enjoy our lives more.

What do you enjoy? What calls to you? What are your favourite memories made of?

What do you enjoy? What calls to you? What are your favourite memories made of? These things do not have to be highbrow or impressive to others. One of my most enjoyable moments of this time has been sitting at the kitchen counter with my 9-year-old, belting out “Bohemian Rhapsody” using a karaoke channel on YouTube.[2] It was not highbrow, and certainly would not be impressive to others, but it was really fun and a wonderful way to connect with my son, a break from all that time I spend telling him what to do.

Again, I don’t want to sound blasé. For those dealing directly with this virus, this is an unimaginably stressful time. However, there is nothing to be gained by all of us trying to match the stress of those directly involved. There is no shame in using this time to slow down, to recognize what is truly important to us and to engage in enjoyable activities that enrich our lives, rather than those we feel we “should” do. In fact, I think that is exactly what is needed right now.

[1]From the poem, “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, which I highly recommend reading. Great inspiration to slow down and appreciate life:

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