Odile Sévigny and Jean-Luc Moisan, collaborators
For several months now, we’ve all had to deal with major changes to our everyday lives. Many of us are feeling a sense of loss of control over our environment, increased anxiety, fear and sadness, as well as a decreased sense of personal well-being and joy that comes from being around family and friends. When everyday life changes so suddenly, it feels as though we’re being separated from the world we know. Having to put everything that gives structure and meaning to our lives on hold can knock us off balance on a personal and relational level.
Going into lockdown has forced us to spend most of our time at home, alone or with close family members. Daily outside activities have for the most part been replaced with working or studying from home.
Health guidelines have kept us apart from one another. No more handshakes, hugs, get-togethers or dinners with friends. The risk of social isolation is very real. Under the circumstances, it’s completely normal to feel temporarily destabilized, more vulnerable, and more emotional. Everyone has to do their best to take care of themselves and their loved ones.
One of the best ways to keep spirits up is to maintain some rituals and to create new ones, as needed. By rituals, we mean a form of communication that allows a group of people to create meaning together by sharing values, symbols and beliefs on a continual basis. Rituals can nurture a person’s sense of belonging and solidarity, provide them a renewed sense of stability, and help channel their emotions.
There are numerous and diverse rituals, generally of a group nature, but also individual, in some cases. Group rituals include liturgical practices, celebrations with family and friends (e.g. birthdays, holiday festivities), sports competitions and citizens’ initiatives (e.g. rainbow posters, activities to highlight the work of caregivers).
Although rituals are more often practised in groups, there are also plenty of individual activities that can be done. These include religious practice, meditation, everyday activities (e.g. putting the kids to bed, preparing meals, carrying out personal hygiene), physical activities (e.g. dance, jogging, yoga, cycling, walking, tai chi) and cultural activities (e.g. listening to music, playing an instrument, drawing, reading, writing).
To constitute an effective ritual, these practices must take place in a specific context of space and time. They must be regular and repetitive. That way, they will be seen by those who engage in them as habits that are meaningful, and increase their energy and sense of well-being.
During a pandemic, some rituals have to be adapted, and the ones that are no longer accessible should be replaced. Some examples include video chats with friends or relatives, a special dinner with a spouse the same night every week to create a sense of celebration, regular phone calls with a friend to talk about things other than the pandemic and a walk with friends.
As long as we carried on with our individual and collective lives in a normal way, it was easy to overlook just how much regular and direct physical contact with our relatives, friends and co-workers, and our many everyday activities helped give our lives meaning. We had to face the effects of an extended pandemic to really appreciate the loss, however temporary. It may be tempting to give in to fear and sadness when faced with a situation over which we have so little control, but maintaining rituals on a regular basis in our everyday lives can help us stay grounded while waiting for better days to come.