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Maryam Siddiqi dances in her living room, part of her new routine in the time of social distancing.Courtesy of family

Tuesdays through Thursdays at 1 p.m., I dance. I tune in to the dance class/party hosted by Ryan Heffington, choreographer for Sia, Florence and the Machine and Arcade Fire, on his Instagram account, and for upwards of 60 minutes I turn up the music and move. My colleagues don’t know (well, not until now) because we’ve been working from home since mid-March, but my neighbours in the building across the street might if they’ve caught sight of me through the window (my turns are so much better now, huh?).

Pretty quickly into social distancing I realized that movement, in whatever form, comforted me, physically and mentally. It was the first in a growing list of things I’m finding comfort in, things that a month ago I wouldn’t have blinked at doing they were so automatic: opening a window to let fresh air in (I live in a balcony-less condo); lighting candles (I’m literally burning through them); watering my plants. Even changing the wallpaper image on my phone sparked a little joy the other day, something I had never before considered doing.

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According to my social media feeds, many of you are finding comfort in cooking and baking. I’ve seen others “bring out the good stuff,” be it soap, perfume or alcohol. And lots of decluttering (me too, feels so good). I posed the question on Twitter, “How are you finding comfort right now?” The answers were numerous: puzzles, gardening, knitting, podcasts, colouring, gaming, singing, meditation, warm baths, early bed times, no alarm clocks in the morning, working on henna designs, picking up litter on walks, making Rice-A-Roni everyday (this might be a joke, I hope it’s not).

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought with it so much change and so many unknowns, is a new situation for most of us, and it’s causing heightened feelings of stress and anxiety. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has a list of strategies for dealing with these feelings – the first is accepting that some anxiety and fear is normal. Another is finding “relaxation through any activity that you find enjoyable.” Any. Activity.

The act of doing, no matter how small that thing is, creates a sense of productivity, which in turn can be relaxing – particularly useful for those waiting out their 14 days of quarantine. Nisha Chittal, in a recent story for Vox about quarantine cooking, sums it up nicely: “For those of us who love planning out every detail of our schedules in advance, this kind of uncertainty is incredibly frustrating. There’s nothing we can do about that – but at least making a braised pork shoulder is a way to soothe our nerves and feel like we have a tiny slice of power over something in our lives.”

All those things we’ve been saving for a rainy day, or that would only have been considered worthwhile on self-care Sundays, are perfectly suited for now.

This is not a time to ask “What should I be doing?” but instead, “What do I want to do?” (Within the confines of your home, of course.) While we all still have stressful obligations – working, caring for children or elders – there is great comfort in releasing yourself from the expectations of “normal” life and filling days with little things that put a smile on your face. Life must go on, even though it’s harder than ever. So let’s cut ourselves a break.

You’ve actually got time to stop and smell the roses (and many independent florists are still delivering), so, in the name of comfort, do it. The dishes can wait until tomorrow.

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I’ve made a couple impulsive decisions these past few weeks, one was buying a mini trampoline, the other was going back to school – specifically attending the online version of Yale’s Science of Well-Being course. Free to audit without the obligation of having to worry about marks or exams, the psychology course focuses on the science of happiness, examining misconceptions about the concept of happiness, managing expectations and how to rewire our brain to change behaviour and build healthier habits. Knowledge is power, they say. It might be happiness, too.

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