After lots of jokes, someone posted a supermarket picture that stopped me cold and brought on panic. The tampon aisle was bare. There were no baby wipes or formula. Also, no bread or pasta either. No diapers. No medicine. The shelves looked absolutely postapocalyptic. And here’s why my alarm grew exponentially: There are people who literally cannot survive without some of these basic items.
I immediately thought about my friends with medically fragile kids. I thought about families with infants or those with diabetes. I worried about people who are homebound or too sick or weak to shop. Who is helping them and making sure they have what they need? This is a frightening time for everyone, but not for everyone equally.
Many families need help, now more than ever
I thought about the families who rely on schools to help care for their kids with severe autism, mental health disorders and special needs. I thought about people with hard-to-manage children who will now be home without any of their therapies and support services. I thought about people who can’t afford to stay home with their kids and potentially lose their jobs.
What about the people who don’t have enough food on a typical month let alone one when school is closed? How about restaurant and shop owners who will have a drastically diminishing income. All of that makes me sick with worry.
But then I remembered, in dark times, there’s always kindness. Being thoughtful, showing empathy, thinking of others—that’s the stuff that makes life better for everyone. A friend of mine recently told me the story of being in an airport, his flight delayed. The airline gave passengers a $12 food voucher, and instead of spending it on himself he bought the strangers behind him their dinner.
He said there was a momentary glow—fleeting, sure, but real. Why? Because helping someone in need just feels good. We can’t solve problems for everyone and eliminate every injustice in the world. But we can fix one problem for one person, or ease dread with warmth. We can all do that, and if we did, we could make a dent in the pain of this difficult span.
Right now, we’re all feeling the stress of a global pandemic. What do we do? Where can we go? It’s unsettling and terrifying—and the one way I know to combat it is via kindness. There is a good deal of research showing that giving and helping others actually increases happiness for the giver. Now is the time to do for others in whatever way we can, even while practicing social distancing. Find your talents, strengths and abilities and use them for the greater good. This is what we all need right now.
Ways to help others during the Covid-19 pandemic
Play an instrument: Open the windows, Italy style, and play out for your neighbors. No neighbors? Start a video series for Facebook or Instagram. Share your talent and spread joy.
Be a Driver: People on dialysis, those receiving chemotherapy and others who must still attend doctor appointment might be happy for the ride.
Buy a gift card: Here you can kill two birds with one stone. Buying a gift card helps the restaurant or shop where you buy it and the person to whom you offer it.
Give blood: The American Red Cross said donors are urgently needed. If you are healthy consider contacting your local center.
Donate food or money: There are people without enough food. Maybe you bought too much and have some to share. Maybe you have extra money to spare this month. Donate money or food (through amazon or local delivery) to soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters.
Call a friend: There are people for whom being home alone for an extended basis is potentially dangerous. Social isolation can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety or depression. Maybe someone you know thrives on social contact. Take an hour a day to connect with someone who could use the human interaction.
Send a card: Who doesn’t love mail? Recently my husband started sending random thank you notes to people he has known throughout his life. Even if he doesn’t get a response, it feels good to say thank you. Find an old friend or teacher. Have your kids make homemade get well or thinking of you cards for grandparents or far away aunts and uncles.
Give a virtual lesson: Are you a teacher of some kind? Can you offer expertise in your professional area? Parents who are home with kids would love to have piano or art lessons, essay writing, algebra, American or world history or tutoring in any other subject. Offer yoga instruction or an exercise class to do at home. Provide lessons on mindfulness or meditation.
Check on older neighbors: Offer to shop, bring food, do laundry or run to the drug store for prescriptions or supplies or just say hello. Even with social distancing, some people will require additional help. Take precautions but remember those who have no safety net or caregivers nearby.
Offer a listening ear: When there’s a community crisis there’s a tendency to people to play the suffering Olympics. Oh, you think that’s bad, listen to what happened to me. But what people need is to be heard. Take the time to listen carefully to your friends and family and offer empathy for their tough situation.
Buy only what you need for a few weeks: When supplies become scares there’s an understandable tendency to buy extra. It’s scary to think of running out. The problem is that the goods then are not evenly distributed. Some people have too much while others have not enough. If you only buy what you need, you can leave some for others who come after you.
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Catherine Pearlman, PhD, LCSW is the author of Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction which is available from TarcherPerigee. She’s also the founder of The Family Coach and an assistant professor at Brandman University. Follow Catherine on Facebook and Twitter.