It’s hard to escape the doom and gloom of the current news cycle. Whether I turn on the TV, scroll through my Twitter feed, check my text messages, or hop into a virtual hangout, the topics always center on COVID-19. Where is it spreading? When is it ending? Why are we experiencing a toilet paper apocalypse when bidets are definitely cleaner?!? (#MuslimShowerForTheWin) Even my dear ol’ Pakistani grandma updates me on the latest coronavirus conspiracy theories and questionable herbal remedies when I FaceTime her, which makes me facepalm. “No Nani, joshanda can’t cure everything!”
Coronavirus has not only reached every continent (except Antarctica), it’s also infiltrated the interwebs and taken over our thoughts and conversations. Even if we’re one of the lucky ones who don’t get physically sick, the mental and emotional toll of this crisis can be crushing, all-consuming, and crippling.
Reflect. Recalibrate. Then, Rise.
It took me a while to realize that it’s okay to not feel okay, but there are things that I (and we) can do to uplift ourselves (and each other). In this article, I want to take you through how I learned to cope and share ideas on how to spread love and kindness in our communities. Love and kindness are two of the most simple, yet powerful, agents of change that bless both the giver and the receiver.
After unsuccessfully trying to cope with coronavirus with ugly-fetal-position-crying, food filled distractions, and Netflix binges, I realized that my heart was craving human connection.
For the past few years, my favorite way to connect with people has been through my blog, where I write about my artistic and adventurous pursuits. As a blogger, sharing stories from my time spent traveling around the world, and my time spent doing fun creative things at home, is how I inspire, inform, and build connections.
When travel has been suspended, what’s a travel blogger to do?
However in this uncertain climate, I’ve struggled to carry on with “blogging as usual.” So, I simply stopped trying to act as if everything is fine and dandy, and decided to shift my creative energy. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I got up and out of my grungy pajamas, took a shower, and looked for unique ways I could help my community.
Healthy coping tip #1: Reflect on what made you feel happy and connected before this pandemic struck. If you can’t do those things the same way anymore, recalibrate. Think about how you can adapt your skills, talents, and actions to be of most value in this current climate. Don’t stifle your passion; reawaken it with a new purpose. Then, rise by lifting others.
6 creative ways to spread joy, not germs
In this (inshAllah temporary) new normal of social distancing, there are still things we can do to strengthen our bonds, show some love, and take care of one another. Here are six creative ways to spread joy, not germs.
1. Support a restaurant, feed a shelter
With cities on lockdown, local restaurants have suspended in-house dining and pivoted to takeout and delivery only as a way to survive. A few weeks ago, I received an email from my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant in Boston saying they had shuttered two of their three locations, but were still trying to keep their last one open so their employees (many of them immigrants and refugees) could continue to earn living wages. When I read this email, two things popped into my mind: 1) there was unfortunately a limit to the number of shawarmas I could stuff into my belly 2) mine wasn’t the only family I could feed. So, I catered food from the restaurant and dropped it off to a women’s shelter. Through this one small act of kindness, I was able to help both the restaurant and the women’s shelter.
Healthy coping tip #2: When your family or spouse drives you crazy in quarantine life, remember that not everyone has a family or home to stay in. Battered women, homeless youth and adults, refugees, and low-income households are some of the hardest hit segments of our communities. In addition to unstable living conditions, they are also at increased risk of loneliness and depression. If you have the means, send food from a struggling restaurant to a human (or animal!) shelter for the staff and residents, like you would send food to a family member. Or, when you grab your own dinner, add an extra serving for someone you know who could use a “pick me up” treat. You don’t have to single-handedly (or should I say, single-mouthedly?) keep your favorite restaurants afloat.
2. Offer help to your neighbors
One of my favorite hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) from Sunan al-Tirmidhī is, “The best companion to Allah is the best to his companions, and the best neighbor to Allah is the best to his neighbors.” Inspired by this hadith, I posted a message on our online community forum offering help. My husband and I are young and sprightly millenials with no underlying health issues alhamdulillah, meaning it’s our duty to serve our neighbors who are elderly or immunocompromised. If you’d also like to offer assistance to your neighbors, but don’t know how best to frame it, here’s my note below. Feel free to copy and paste it! If you don’t have an online community forum, you can also write out this note on a piece of paper and stick it on a billboard or drop it in mailboxes.
The last few weeks have been challenging for all of us as we adjust to new (temporary) normals of school closures, working from home, and staying apart. But social distancing doesn’t need to be isolating, so we wanted to offer our help to our community.
If you are elderly or immunocompromised and need assistance grabbing groceries or running errands, we can go out and take care of them for you.
If you are a medical professional on the front lines and need a pick-me-up, we can deliver fresh baked goods to your door as a gesture of appreciation and support.
Please let us know how we can be of service by contacting me at [contact information].
We’re in this together.
A friend of mine in Toronto made DIY soup packets for her neighbors, so they could easily cook a warm, comforting bowl of soup at home.
Healthy coping tip #3: Being in quarantine at home can make us feel helpless – wanting to make a difference but not knowing what to do. Start by reaching out to your neighbors. Ask them if they need groceries, a hot meal, medicine pick up, or their lawn mowed. Even if no one takes you up on your offer to help, they will no doubt feel better knowing they live next to a kind, caring soul. And you will find that those feelings of helplessness will dissipate too.
3. Bake treats for essential workers and medical personnel
As a woman in tech, I’m able to do my job remotely, and safely, from home. But my thoughts have regularly wandered to essential workers (grocery store clerks, truck drivers, mailmen, etc.) and medical personnel (doctors, nurses, paramedics, social workers, vets) who are on the frontlines during this crisis. Now more than ever, I understand, appreciate, and applaud all they’re doing – and all that they’re sacrificing – for the greater good. I love to bake, and believe anything made with sugar and chocolate can cheer people up. So, I made a large batch of my favorite baked goodies, placed them in cute cardboard boxes, and delivered them to our friends on the frontline. Let me tell you, dropping off baked treats to friends we haven’t seen in a while was sweeter than anything I’ve eaten recently (and I eat a lot of desserts).
Healthy coping tip #4: A lot of us – me included – have turned to baking as a therapeutic activity with delicious results. Instead of baking and pummeling all the goodies yourself, share the sweetness (and calories, because we’re all trying to avoid the #quarantine15 weight gain!) with others – especially essential workers and medical professionals. And if you can’t bake, consider leaving snacks on your doorstep for delivery personnel bringing all of your online shopping to you.
4. Distribute art supplies to a nursing home
Since the elderly have a higher coronavirus fatality rate, nursing homes have banned visitors in an effort to keep their residents safe. However, this also means residents are no longer able to see the comforting faces of their family and friends, except through a digital screen. One of my friends is a social worker, and she suggested distributing art supplies to a nursing home as a means of keeping residents engaged. Crafting is a relaxing and contemplative activity that can calm a worried mind.
Healthy coping tip #5: Our elders deserve our compassion; they took care of us when we were young. Even if your grandparents have passed (may Allah grant them heaven) or are healthy at home (may Allah keep them that way), consider sending crafting kits or cards to residents at a nursing home. You can even “Adopt a Grandparent” and have virtual chats with an elder who may not have a grandchild of their own. Trading stories and forging friendships between generations is bound to bring both wisdom and peace.
5. Share your knowledge pro bono
I’m blessed to be surrounded by many strong-willed, smart, and selfless women who have accumulated a wealth of knowledge on important issues like healthcare, humanitarian relief, the justice system, and the law. Over the past few weeks, I have seen my friends share this knowledge, which they have gained through years of hard work, experience, and education, completely free of charge, in an effort to increase access to the information people need right now. From helping kids better understand coronavirus testing and prevention to shedding light on how COVID-19 is impacting displaced communities, to hosting an employment Q&A, to demystifying what a healthcare proxy is, women are stepping up everywhere to offer their insight pro bono.
Healthy coping tip #6: All of us have knowledge that, when shared, can empower others. Think about how you can contribute meaningfully to the conversations happening around COVID-19. Do you have tips on how to keep children busy? Ideas for quick meals to make? Can you provide workshops on resume building or interview practice for those people who have lost jobs? Sharing your skills and knowledge can be an act of charity that doesn’t cost you a cent, but makes a big difference because it combats ignorance and increases peoples’ independence.
6. Organize a teddy “bear hunt” for the kiddos
My husband and I don’t have kids of our own yet, but we have definitely heard of the struggle of keeping youngins occupied and entertained while daycares and schools are closed. A few parents we know have participated in “bear hunts” in their communities as a safe outdoor activity. The idea is too cute not to share, so I’m including it here. Basically, to organize a kid-friendly “bear hunt”, you ask families in your neighborhood to display teddy bears on their porches, in their windows, on their cars – any place where they can be seen by passersby. Then, parents and their kids stroll through the streets and try to spot as many bears as they can. It’s a fun, innocent way to cheer up the kiddos (and probably their parents too). And best of all, no animals are harmed.
Healthy coping tip #7: Whether you organize a bear hunt, volunteer to tutor, or simply become a reading buddy, spend time with children. Children are, by their nature, curious, optimistic, and joyful – and some of that may just rub off on you too.
Kindness is Contagious.
I wholeheartedly believe that kindness is more contagious and powerful than any virus. Small acts of kindness, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world and forge connections even in this age of social distancing. I wanted to share the six ideas above from my friends and I to hopefully, inshAllah, set off a ripple of kindness that flows through our communities.
I know the world can seem scary right now and the 24/7 coronavirus news cycle can be overwhelming, but I’ve found solace and guidance in these words from Mr. Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Let’s be one of those helpers. We may not be able to do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good we can do.
Annum Munir is a marketer by day, and an art & adventure blogger by night. She helps Muslims travel more mindfully and infuse creativity into everyday projects. Follow her at annum-munir.com.