I think about this a lot lately. For many of us, the pandemic meant an increasing reliance on technology and virtual space for life and work. One of the effects of our excessive reliance on technology is a new kind of relationship with our bodies and the physical spaces they invade. Rather than Ethan realizing that Wii was approximating embodied life, he thought the opposite was true. This makes sense because the innovative way we can have experiences in digital spaces often makes the embodied ones feel like weak substitutes.
With so many of our experiences migrating to digital spaces, we have overstimulated our visual and auditory senses while largely ignoring the other senses. When Covid-19 safety guidelines highlighted that being in social spaces with our physical bodies created undue risk, we found ourselves sitting in front of screens more and moving less. We found ourselves texting more and talking less. Even the mundane opportunities for soft forms of social connection such as going to the grocery store and gym were taboo, so we were left with ourselves.
As a result, we've likely lived less in our bodies than we did pre-pandemic. The loss of embodied experience can lead to anxiety and a sense of isolation. The following can help us reconnect with our bodies and begin to achieve greater balance between our online and real lives:
- Identify the physical experiences we've neglected or not been able to have during quarantine. Make a list of the physical activities you had to set aside when the pandemic hit.
- Rank your list. Take at least five full minutes to rank your list from "Things Most Missed" to "Things Missed Least."
- Make a realistic plan and stick to it. Begin to make a plan about how to do those things you missed most as soon as your county and state officials reopen activities. Pre-planning will allow you to make decisions about how to use your time and energy with intention. If going to the gym is first on your list but you're being flooded with requests for social gatherings, being able to look at your list will help you to say no to the wonderful, but not aligned, option for yourself. Refer to this list often as you establish new routines with your body.
Rethinking rituals can also help you reconnect to your body
For most of us, the pandemic also interrupted our time-honored rituals and routines. This is another way it jolted us out of embodied experience, as these rituals and routines are as much physical as mental. Brushing our teeth as a part of a morning or nighttime routine, playing a weekly pick-up basketball game, and celebrating birthdays and anniversaries are all examples of rituals that help us mark the movement of time and meaningful moments in life. During the pandemic, we all created ritual behaviors related to handwashing and mask-wearing, and those working and living in frontline embodied places such as hospitals and grocery stores have had to adjust their daily rituals to ensure social distancing, masking, and more. On the whole, though, most of us have lost significant large and small markers of time and meaning.
When I was seeing clients in-person before the pandemic, I routinely stood up to accompany each person out of my office and to head to the waiting room to greet my next client. It's easy now, with my therapy sessions online via a telehealth platform, to wrap up a session, type a few notes, then migrate to email and work there until my next session begins. In losing the transitional movement and space, I also have lost the perspective shift that came with a more marked beginning and end of each appointment.
Many of us have experienced similar losses of ritual over this unique time. We aren't heading outdoors, or at least down the hall, for leisurely lunch breaks. We're not grabbing a cup of coffee in a breakroom or gathering around the water dispenser, catching up with colleagues. Students aren't walking from class to class, getting lunches out of lockers, or heading to recess or intramurals. All these changes have impacted the flow of life.
The rituals by which we work and learn and play will be forever changed, but thoughtful consideration of the following would benefit us all:
- Identify the large and small rituals that mark time and space in your life. Take time to identify the rituals and routines you left behind during the pandemic. This could be as small as "going outside to commute to work each day," "getting out of my sweats," to as large as "completely stopped traveling which was a huge part of my work."
- Understand the meaning behind each ritual. Looking back over each lost ritual, consider what that it did for you when you used to practice it? Did it help or hinder your health and happiness?
- Clearly identify new rituals birthed during Covid-19. What new rituals have you begun during the time of quarantine? Sleep in until moments before needing to start work or school? Online grocery shop? Binge-watch TV series while you eat lunch or dinner?
- Assess how the new rituals help or hurt. Reflecting on your new rituals, how has each helped or hindered your health and happiness?
- Identify re-entry rituals that might help mark the transition to a new time and space. What new re-entry rituals might help you to deal with all the changes that are to come? Get as specific as possible, write them down, and post them where they're easily visible as you work to enact them. Share them with others who can help you get them in place.
Adapted from Restart: Designing a Healthy Post Pandemic Life by Doreen Dodgen-Magee, PsyD.
Doreen Dodgen-Magee, PsyD, is an author, psychologist, researcher, and speaker. She is the author of Restart: Designing a Healthy Post-Pandemic Life and the Nautilus Gold Medal-winning book, Deviced! Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.
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