World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press briefing on the Covid-19 outbreak in Geneva. Picture: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press briefing on the Covid-19 outbreak in Geneva. Picture: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

As it leads the global battle against the coronavirus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised people to manage their mental wellbeing as much as their physical health. It suggests engaging in healthy activities to relax, eating well and keeping regular sleep routines.

Yet the WHO knows such advice may not be enough for those people hunkered down at home with feelings of fear, loneliness, and sadness. The agency also recommends people be empathetic towards those with Covid-19, seek accurate information about the crisis, and find safe ways to help others in isolation.

“Assisting others in their time of need can benefit the person receiving support as well as the helper,” the agency states.

In other words, one’s home is now both a sanctuary from the virus and a place to rethink the principles that ought to govern home life. Are we seeking out truthful sources of news? How can we better calm a friend with loving assurance? What new ways of expressing life might be possible during the still silence of self-isolation?

For many, the pandemic is reshuffling the notion of home as a sanctuary, or a sheltering space that allows one to anchor one’s thoughts and values. People are redefining their cords of attachment in new ways. Instead of going to religious services in person, they are worshipping online. Instead of going to parties, weddings, sporting events, or even funerals, they are holding digital gatherings.

Adjusting to a new life of quarantine can have its rewards. “All of this can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be,” wrote the leaders of the United Methodist Church in Simsbury, Connecticut, in a message to congregants. “This can be a time where we can deepen our prayer life, increase our meditation time and work to expand the peace of God around us as those near and dear grapple with heightened anxiety.”

The WHO’s call for people to maintain their mental wellbeing is meant as a challenge. In the sanctuary of one’s home, some of the old ways of thinking about relationships, skills and interests must be rethought. The isolation can be a gift, not a grind, especially as a new inner life leads to bettering oneself as well as the lives of others. /Boston, March 23

Christian Science Monitor

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