Still feeling disorientation from the pandemic? These replacement activities can help you feel rejuvenated.
Many people abruptly transitioned from a traditional full-time office job to a full-time remote job (although without the usual coffee shop or co-working alternate location options). No more water cooler talk, face-to-face meetings or productive (or distracting? or toxic?) cubicle-encroached, clock-watching work environments. For many of the newly indoctrinated tele-workforce, job activities have remained fairly consistent, but their work “place” has completely changed.
Socially, an onslaught of new public health responsibilities has outright canceled many traditional forms of socialization. This feels more restrictive than it should because our sense of socialization is more than just associated with, but downright attached to, our sense of “place.” Losing movie theaters, churches, restaurants, gyms, fairs, carnivals, etc. translates to feeling as though we have lost our opportunities to socialize at all, despite the fact that we socialize with people, not with places.
Psychologically, and perhaps most notably, most people have also lost their “third place.” Distinct from what are technically defined as your first place (home) and second place (work), your “third place” is a separate place of comfort that instills a sense of belonging and camaraderie.
Like the coffee shop in “Friends” or the bar in “Cheers,” a “third place” is a cheap or free, easily accessible, welcoming place you regularly frequent with the same core group of people. It may be a friend’s house or your weekly trivia bar; it could be the restaurant where they know your order before you say it, your church or the local barbershop/salon. The loss of our “third place” is possibly the most impactful to us because it is a habit we adopted and molded on our own terms: It is a place that we regularly go to that simply makes us glad to be there.
With our work/play/etc. places getting mixed up (namely, all jammed into our homes, which are now serving so many more purposes than they used to), we are experiencing a societal sense of displacement. We have formed professional, social and psychological habits rooted in cultural traditions around physical places that we can no longer access.
Those traditions — of activities we do and where we do them — have been disrupted by the global pandemic, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The good news is traditions can, in fact, be adapted. For the truly progressive, they can even evolve into (dare I say it?) new traditions.
Shifting your mind-set to consider adapting traditions can be challenging, especially when it involves redefining a sense of place. It will not “be the same,” necessarily, but the purpose is to evolve and enhance while maintaining the values most important to you. (Pro tip: Keep asking yourself “why” and “how else can I achieve that” to whittle a tradition down to its true essence.)
Take, for example, Christmas. Christmas technically started out in a barn with no electricity. Just presents and “presence.” While holding steadfast to those core components, most people have adapted their Christmas tradition to include a better-insulated structure and even embraced the modern technology of the lightbulb.
So maybe this year (it is never too soon to start shifting your mind-set), you could consider how to embrace new opportunities and start new traditions. Maybe a virtual celebration translates into no time wasted in holiday travel traffic, no one getting left out because they are too far away and no one being forced to eat Aunt Mildred’s fruitcake.
Now consider your day-to-day home life. What traditional habits have you been forced to break? How can you fill those voids in new ways, using your home — and/or the great outdoors — as your primary new “place?”
Maybe you cannot go out for a special dinner at your favorite restaurant, but you can get three courses of takeout from that same restaurant, dust off the formal dining room table and pull out the candles and fancy dishes and silverware (yes, this is the special occasion for it), or order specially decorated, celebratory paper-plate-ware online.
Maybe you cannot go on a double date to the movies, but you can have theme “virtual” movie nights, or head to an old-school drive-in theater and park side by side, bringing your own smorgasbords of food — you have more options than just popcorn and candy!
Maybe you cannot host a potluck, but you can start actually entertaining on your outdoor patio with one or two friends. It is amazing how little we complain about the weather when we finally get to share it with good company!
And maybe you cannot go to your old “third place,” but you can rediscover a new kind of place that brings you joy. Taking a daily walk around the block with neighbors at the end of the day, or going on a stroll through your local state park — or a hike, for the ambitious — can be a rejuvenating, restorative activity and satisfy many of the “third place” qualities if you can enlist a friend or two to join you.
As creatures of habit, any time our habits are disrupted, we react. The greater the disruption, and the less we feel we deserve it (this wasn’t hurting anyone before!), the greater our reaction. But now we face a time when habit, tradition and place can no longer overlap in the same capacity, and it is leaving us feeling displaced. So amid all the uncertainty, determine the essence of your values and identify new places for your traditions to flourish while the world finds its footing and adapts to the new place it will be.
Stephanie Brick is the owner of Stephanie Brick Design in Baltimore.