We speak to a few professionals and put together a list of activities that will not only occupy your time but also improve your wellness during the coronavirus lockdown
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First, it was a shutdown of entertainment premises and places of worship then followed a 7pm-5am curfew.
Most recently, the government announced – rather exasperatedly – that it fears Covid-19 cases will rise to 5,000 by mid-April (in less than two weeks) and to 10,000 by the end of the month.
“It is important that we all practice social isolation and avoid person-to-person contact,” Mutahi Kagwe, the CS for Health, has implored.
The advice to self-isolate by confining our families in our homes is meant for the good of the public. The coronavirus pandemic has pummelled Europe with apocalyptic horror.
Africa – with our feeble healthcare system and pre-colonial infrastructure – does not stand a chance against this virus.
“This is why it is imperative that we follow the government’s directive to stop all types of contact among ourselves,” notes Dr Lincoln Khasakhala, a clinical psychologist.
Will this period of self-isolation be difficult? “Yes, it will be,” says Margaret Kagwe, a psychologist.
She, however, agrees that it would be much less difficult if one finds creative ways to keep themselves busy.
This week, we entice you to take up activities that will not only occupy your time but also contribute to your wellness: physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically.
1. Maintain contact with loved ones
Around the world, psychologists are predicting that global lockdowns will test people’s mental resolve. Dr Khasakhala is one of them.
Last Sunday, British Newspaper The Guardian reported that in Italy (ground zero in Europe for the COVID-19 pandemic) the Ministry of Health warned of a ‘psychological emergency’, saying people risk being ‘overwhelmed by fear of an insidious virus that has banned us from hugging and being close to others.’
A survey conducted during the first week of Italy’s lockdown yielded the following results: 93 per cent of respondents said they felt at least a little anxious, while 42 per cent described a distinct drop in their mood and 28 per cent reported that they were not sleeping well.
“It is expected that people’s mental health will be tested during this period,” Ms Kagwe, the psychologist, concurs. She explains that the lockdown will deprive many of their social support system and ways they use to keep depression and stress away.
She adds: “Typically, we maintain sanity by going for a walk, talking to friends, attending parties, mingling with other people, and even going to work. We don’t have those support systems with the lockdown.”
But there is another way, she says. Technology has come a long way. Today, we are imbued with communication technology that allows us to communicate with anyone from anywhere.
“This is the time to utilise those communication tools at our disposal. Let’s keep communicating with loved ones whether by call, text or smartphone apps.
“A problem shared is a problem half solved. It will give many the sense that even though their movement is limited to their homes, they are not alone: that they can still talk to those they love about their lives and their troubles,” Ms Kagwe says.
If you live in an apartment block, you can engage in banter from the balcony. Bottom line, stay connected to other people, Margaret says.
2. Watch and listen to educative or entertaining productions
This should come naturally for entertainment-loving blokes.
To start with, movies are a dime a dozen. They are not only available in cinemas but online as well. On one of the lazy days last week, yours truly sat down for one hour and some 40-something minutes of ‘Contagion’, a 2011 thriller that describes how a pandemic spreads.
Movies can be for entertainment. They can also be educative and informative (like Contagion was). However, be careful what you watch (whether alone or with your family).
Some movies are neither entertaining nor educative. How would you know this? Perhaps, start by asking friends and colleagues for reviews. You could also read reviews online.
Aside from movies, there are podcasts, vlogs, TED talks, Kenya’s Engage talks and Dada Sphere talks. Informative resources are plenty and available. Set aside time for these. Of course, do not spend whole days on one type of entertainment.
It was interesting to see parents get worked up at the difficulties of teaching their own children at home.
‘Teachers deserve a raise’ one quipped. But really, is it really hard to be your child’s teacher?
“It shouldn’t be and it is not,” says Wairimu Mwangi, a mother of three.
Wairimu has home-schooled all her children. Her last born, an eight year old, is the last one on the drill.
“The first two are in university now and are doing very well,” she says. If done intentionally, homeschooling, reckons Wairimu, would be help your child blossom intellectually.
Parents are used to partying ways with the children in the morning and meeting in the evening. Well, now you wake up and meet at the sink.
The stay-at-home order has severely altered the dynamics of parenting.
The children still need to stay captivated about knowledge. You have no option but to assume the teaching mantle.
According to Wairimu, the trick is in short lessons (40 minutes) interspersed with some fun activities (if your child is 10 or younger).
Fun activities are like art and craft, singing, playing with a ball.
Take these shutdown days as an opportunity to understand your child’s brain development and cognitive function. Help them build knowledge.
4. Keep fit by exercising
Being in the house for whole days will no doubt cause many to gain weight. Close proximity to food – and in the face of heightened anxiety – trips to the fridge will be frequent and sustained. But even if you eat moderately, you still need to remain active.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) advocates for at least two and a half hours of sweat-breaking exercise in a week.
Look around you: there must be plenty of resources to exercise in your house or at home – now that gyms (all public spaces) are off limits.
Grace Wanunda is a mother of two. She is also a fitness enthusiast. Since the shutdown began, Grace has been sharing clips on her social media pages of her working out at home.
“In the morning, I do 30 to 45 minutes of jogging up and down stairs,” she says.
Sometimes she carries her son – whose body mass substitutes for weights at the gym – and performs burpees or squat thrusts.
“I also do planks with him sitting on my back,” she says. “It is really effective in helping me burn the calories and keep fit.
With exercise, she says, you do not need big spaces. Even inside one’s own bedroom, there is enough space to do press-ups, stretch, star jumps, sit ups, bicycle crunches and so on.
The benefits of physical exercise, Grace says, are not just fitness. “Exercise releases feel-good hormones that leaves you positive in your mind set and less stressed,” she says.
You don’t have a backyard? That’s no matter. Gardening is still quite possible through improvisation.
A balcony, a courtyard, a wall, a driveway, a windowsill or a corridor – they can all be transformed into green havens. With sacks or troughs to carry soil, one can set up a garden anywhere.
What’s a garden for? A 2017 meta-analysis of the benefits of gardening, published in the journal Science Direct, found that gardening reduces depression and anxiety.
The study also found that a garden increases one’s satisfaction in life, quality of life, and sense of community.
“A natural environment,” Ms Kagwe concurs, “boosts ones mental well-being.”
Gardening is arguably one of the most common ways of interacting with nature a doorstep away.
But there is also another reason to take up gardening: food production.
With restricted movement, how would it feel having vegetables for a meal merely a few steps away from the kitchen?
6. Clean up, declutter and beautify your home
Now that you are home most of the days you may just be taking note – for the first time – how unkempt your living space looks.
Wangeci Kanyeki practices and writes about interior décor. She says: “This is your opportunity to reorganise your living space. To do so, you will start by uncluttering: take out everything that no longer has use. The ones that are in good condition can be donated. Some will go into bins. And some can be converted into artistic masterpieces.”
With the house lean, the next step, Wangeci says, would be to organise. Organising involves cleaning up and placing everything where it is supposed to be. In doing so, no store should be left untouched and no closet unchecked. Every crevice of the home must be ransacked.
After organising comes beautification. “This would involve, for instance, developing art and craft to decorate walls and manipulate ambience,” Wangeci says.
Living in a clean and aesthetically pleasing home, Wangeci notes, lowers frustrations and brings calm. And God knows we will need those in plenty as long as the stay-at-home order is still in place.
7. Read books
Books expand our minds. They give us perspective and make sense of the human existence.
But books also, like movies, are entertaining. Challenge yourself to read one book every so often – let’s say a week. Go with an interval that will fit into your life.
Given, you are likely to be awake for at least 12 hours in 24 hours. An hour or two from those 12 hours should be sufficient for reading.
8. Play with the children
Children, unlike adults, cannot suppress their desire to stay entertained. Because of COVID-19 we cannot ferry them to a kids’ playground to swing and slide or to jump in a bouncing castle.
Some parents will seek to keep them ‘busy’ with a smartphone or a laptop or a tab. This is not only insidious: it robs you the opportunity to be your child’s friend.
“Be your child’s best friend,” intentional parenting coach Roselyn Kigen has advised before on these pages.
There are more traditional ways families can have fun at home. For instance, you can play hide and seek or scavenger hunt.
You can exercise with them: lift them up and down as you would weights. Get them to jump over you and slide under your belly as you perform press-ups.
Beyond games, this maybe an opportunity to just sit and talk to your child: give them the opportunity to open up and tell you what’s in their mind. You might be surprised how articulate they are.
If not, and perhaps as part of homeschooling, engage them in art and craft.
Provided them with rudimentary materials like cardboards and waste paper. Involve them in drawing and painting. Help them frame their work and display it in the house or in their rooms.
9. Art and Craft for adults
Still have some free time at your disposal? Tap into your inner artist. Think: what kind of art would you excel in?
Could it be painting (with a brush)? If you fancy art on the wall it might be an opportunity for you to create it. Art tutorials are free on most online platforms.
How about knitting? Most of us saw our mothers convert homes into a one-man factory for knitting sweaters and covers for seats and tables. By the time self-isolation is over you might have a new sweater hanging in your wardrobe.
If you are a writer, this might be your chance to execute that novel you have twiddled with in your mind since 10 years ago. What do you have to lose?