Better days ahead
Monday, August 10, 2020
What are you going to do when COVID-19 quarantine ends — and why are those your choices? While daydreamingresearch abounds, including that which asserts that daydreaming can be associated with positive psychological consequences, I’m not interested in pie-in-the-sky mind wanderings. I’m interested in your plans, as much as any of us can plan anything these days. As the Yiddish aphorism observes, “Mann tracht un Gott lacht” (Man plans and G-d laughs) or as the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns noted, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men/gang aft a-gley.”
Quarantine restrictions vary throughout the world and throughout areas of countries, and the end of quarantine is not near in many places. As we return to school — in whatever ways we return — what do you and your students plan to do when quarantine ends? To what are you looking forward?
Before asking friends and colleagues for their post-quarantine plans, I identified five of my own: Hug my loved ones; go with my sister-of-choice, K, to our favorite women’s-only spa for a full day of treatments and relaxation; resume regular massages; have a prime rib dinner with an iceberg lettuce and blue cheese salad, sautéed mushrooms, mixed vegetables, and warm sourdough bread slathered with butter at The Keg; and spend time immediately before, during, and after my birthday at a secluded beach.
I chose hugging because, as many people, I miss the warm, comforting, and inspiring connection of human contact with those I love. I chose spending a long, luxurious day with K at Olympus Spa because it is the one place where we are in an unencumbered space for many, many hours of intimate connection. Neither of us is distracted by work. She is not distracted by her boyfriend, cat menagerie, or garden, and I am not distracted by my studies, writing deadlines, or doctor and dental appointments.
I chose to resume regular massages because I carry great physical, emotional, and spiritual stress, which manifests unhappily in my body causing me troubled sleep or sleeplessness, body aches, worry, and overall, a weakened immune system, which, of course, leads to illness.
I chose a hearty dinner because I miss treating myself to delectable food that I don’t have to prepare. While I love to cook, I’m ready for a break, and because a prime rib is not for one and is expensive, it’s unrealistic for me to buy and cook one. Likely, K and I will enjoy The Keg together; it’s another opportunity for us to visit. We’ve been friends for nearly 20 years, and this is the first time we’ve ever lived in the same place.
For decades, before I moved overseas, I spent time at year’s end on the Jersey Shore — the home of my heart — where I’d walk for hours on the beach, photographing, centering myself, and reflecting upon the ending year and the approaching one. Now that I’ve returned to the U.S. and am living on a coast, I can get to a secluded beach for a few days. My choices have everything to do with self-care, and my self-care has to do with relationship.
Those I asked range in age from 18 to 69 and live throughout the U.S. and in Russia and Italy. Many said they plan to hug people. To a person, they said they plan to visit with family and friends. For those whose family and friends are local, they are eager to invite loved ones over or to go to others’ homes for dinner, barbecues, and game nights and to be in close proximity. Others must travel nationally or internationally and are impatient to do so. Some are looking forward to returning to hiking, going to parks, and birdwatching.
Eating in restaurants and going to movies were common answers, which intrigues me given that, for many, food delivery and on-demand viewing have become standard parts of our daily lives. A number are restless to return in person to their faith congregations. One person said she is eager to return to volunteering with her congregation’s homeless project. Not surprisingly, everyone I asked responded with desire for attachment, reconnection, kinship. Online media from around the world have reported others saying the same thing.
Dr. Matthew Hertenstein, DePauw University associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and head of the Touch and Emotion Laboratory, and colleagues observed, “Touch is central to human social life. It is the most developed sensory modality at birth, and it contributes to cognitive, brain, and socioemotional development throughout infancy and childhood.”
Two years before the COVID-19 pandemic demanded that, for our health and the health of others, we should physically distance, Jonathan Jones wrote in Greater Good Magazine, “From the time we are in the womb through our elderly years, touch plays a primary role in our development and physical and mental well-being. New studies on touch continue to show the importance of physical contact in early development, communication, personal relationships, and fighting disease.”
Over the decades of her career, Dr. Tiffany Field, Director of the Touch Research Institute in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami School of Medicine, has researched the role of healthy touch. Her findings, and the findings of other researchers, is formidable. In one research review, Field notes, “[…] the rapidly increasing literature on touch and massage therapy highlights the need for touch for social-emotional and physical development and well-being and the therapeutic benefits of massage.”
Moreover, Field observes, “warm touch stimulates release of the ‘cuddle hormone,’ oxytocin, which enhances a sense of trust and attachment.” In the 2015 New Yorker article, “The Power of Touch,” author Maria Konnikova wrote that “The right kind can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels, stimulate the hippocampus (an area of the brain that is central to memory), and drive the release of a host of hormones and neuropeptides that have been linked to positive and uplifting emotions. The physical effects of touch are far-reaching.” It’s no wonder that so many people are looking forward to physically reconnecting with their loved ones when it is safe to do so.
Now it’s your and your students’ turn. What plans do you have and what are you looking forward to post-COVID-19? Why have you made the choices you have?
Students can answer the questions with five responses and reasons and, in pairs or small groups, compare them with classmates’ responses and reasons after which they can share their answers and rationales with the entire class. For a project of more depth and breadth, students interview family members. To use this as a math activity, students can identify and graph the patterns and/or calculate percentages for each group of answers. Students can illustrate their choices and give short presentations. From their own list or by combining the pairs’, small groups’, or class’ list, students can create poems or song lyrics.
The news during the COVID-19 pandemic has been bleak with much of it necessarily focused on those who have been tragically affected by the virus. And the bombarding bleakness weighs heavily on us, causing rising despair. What if, for a time, our focus was on life after the crisis? On the sunny day, the better days of which Bruce Springsteen sings, when we can again share a little bit of that human touch? I don’t think it’s asking too much.
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