Since the pandemic began, my son and I have taken up walking together. It wasn’t until the we started to see the buds on the trees (and a much larger than necessary garter snake in the leaves), that we realized we had walked our path for four seasons. The passing of spring, the freedom of summer, the apprehension that came with fall, and stillness of winter. As we reflected a year of pandemic life we realized that if there has been one reliable constant, it’s been the changing seasons.
Covid-19 has shown no limits in the havoc its capable of wreaking and the magnitude of destruction it can leave in its wake. While the saying has gone that “we are all in this together” the reality is that we have all had our own unique experiences. However, one common thread is the obliteration of what we had come to know as the reliable structure of our daily lives.
The idea of structure is often thrown around used synonymously with routine. Parents and teachers speak of structure as necessary for children. But do we really think about why? What is it? What does it mean? Psychologists say that “structure gives children a sense of safety and provides the opportunity for mastery”, that “routine can decrease stress”. In my experience as a therapist, I see reasonable structure and routine acting as a containing mechanism for anxiety. If there was ever a time for us to find a sense of safety, reduce our stress, and contain anxiety for a lot of us, life is clamoring for us to do that and do it now. Perhaps structure is not just for children after all.
Structure means enough to us that through the seasons of the pandemic, the world shook with a paradoxical need to revel in our new found freedom from the oppression of structure while simultaneously recreating our routines within the confines of our home. Stores ran out of flour, there wasn’t a dumbbell to be found for months, (I won’t touch the toilet paper phenomena as that could be an entirely different article). With summer emerged adaptation, patience, and resiliency; the outdoors became our personal playground. With fall came the slow build of unease, the last days of warmth and the warnings of trouble ahead.
Winter… We created our home offices, the gyms in our basements, and explored our inner chef. We bathed in the complete rebellion from structure and binge watched 18 hours of season 6 of “whatever”. We were left with the days ahead that may or may not have included work, parenting, and let’s not forget online schooling. We had fewer distractions and more time to sit with ourselves and our thoughts.
In pre-pandemic days we had the freedom to become masters at creating our own organized chaos of distractions. If we so desired, we were able to custom design a life that rarely gave us time to be in the moment, look around and see where we are and reflect. Sometimes there’s a reason for that. It’s possible that what we see in these moments may be painful. We may feel lonely, empty, or anxious and let’s not forget about angry or sad. “We are all in this together” may have felt overwhelmingly lonely.
Now again … spring… accompanied by restrictions at a time where we are searching for hope. My son and I are still walking. I asked him how he felt about our walks and he said “I like them because it’s our time to talk”. It made me realize how “time to talk” was one more thing that was quietly woven into the daily structure of our pre-pandemic lives. In the routine of our day we talked on the way to and from school. We talked before his evening activities, games, or art classes. We talked at dinner about his school day, the trials and tribulations of world war III recess, and we talked at bedtime.
He’s right… on our walks we talk, we talk about pandemic life, we talk about online school, we talk about his friends, the things he misses, he tells me about his hopes and dreams, and we he talks about Minecraft and Roblox (a lot). What started out as a way to stay active and be outside now holds a special place in my heart because it’s become a time for us to really connect.
As we look around, it is entirely possible that the days ahead may feel daunting. Routines and structure in pandemic life can be as unique as each of us. In the semblance of routine that you’ve created make sure you take the time for meaningful connections where, when, and in whatever way you can. If you feel lonely, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, angry or anything else… our therapy team is here for you.
Yours in health,