What Day is It?

People are joking that they don’t know what day it is anymore. For many of us, the name for the day of the week no longer carries meaning anyway. With having to clear our calendars, one day became the same as the next. This may have been refreshing at first, but no longer. For many essential workers, it is the same, but for different reasons. They don’t know when their next day off will be. There is no hump day for them. Every day is like Tuesday. You worked yesterday and a free day feels a long way off.

For some of people, undefined time is emotionally distressing, even the breeding ground for depression. With little or no definition in time, they just feel lost.

Suppose you were out at sea, not knowing where you were, but you had a machine that gave your location. It gave you numbers for your longitude and latitude. Now you would know where you are, right? Not really. Not if you didn’t know where your destination is relative to those numbers. Without a reference point, all you have are meaningless numbers. This is how some people are feeling about days of the week and calendar dates.

Some people who are used to being busy actually feel ill when they are idle, dubbed Leisure Sickness and Sunday Neurosis. Pastor Rob Bell has written that when he started taking a meaningful Sabbath day free from work and responsibilities, he felt depressed in the early afternoon of what was supposed to be a gift day.

While some people get through this distress to become comfortable, others do not. They are better advised to create structure in time, even if they only have little things to work with. While many people are doing this, others need a nudge. The first thing has been creating online ways of doing what you did before, like Zoom support groups, book clubs, breakfast clubs, music lessons, tutoring sessions, worship and business meetings. Some find it helpful to check off days on the calendar while other find it distressing. It is worth finding out.

There is more, though, to having the name of the day be meaningful, and that is keeping personal structure. So instead of noticing you had a hair cut appointment you now can’t keep, you cut your own hair and schedule the next appointment with yourself. Schedule when you take walks, get groceries, and so on. Decide when to work on puzzles, when to eat what. Couples are keeping date night in new ways rather than letting it go.

While this all seems simple enough for many of us, for some, it takes deliberate effort and reinforcement. They are more likely to just do things when they feel like it rather than keep a structure. While that sounds like freedom, it can unwittingly fade into darkness.

Let us also not forget those of us for whom the calendar now only consists of stressful dates. The day bills are due are anticipated with dread. When unemployment checks come with their additional value, the end date will be burned into the back of the mind. The day of the week you get your weekly food allowance from the food bank has meaning. You don’t miss it. In such circumstances, the above methods for structuring time with positive things matter even more.

While some physicists say time may not even be real, for us humans, it does matter in how we relate to it.

Mental Hug!

Yes, there are virtual hugs, where you are online with a friend and you each pick an emoticon and have the emoticons hug. But far better is a good old-fashioned mental hug, worth resurrecting in this time of safe distancing.

In college, I was really close with my cousin Greta. Our colleges were within a couple hours’ drive, but we often spoke by phone. The first time, she closed by declaring “Mental hug!” From my silence she detected that I hadn’t heard of such a thing, so she gave me instruction. “Just close your eyes, put your mind where I am and give me a hug. I will do the same.” It worked! I could feel it, physically feel the love we had for each other. We did this many times over the years.

Virtual hugs with emoticons are a nice gesture, but they seem kind of external and flat compared to hugging through imagination, which is experiential, visceral. There is longstanding research that what we vividly imagine doing activates things in the body as if we were doing them physically. These responses are on a micro level, but they are beneficial. And hugs activate the release of Oxytocin, which brings feelings of happiness and reduces physiological stress. Boy do we need that!

The same happens from petting your cat or dog. But it works best when we give it our undivided attention and really savor it, even if briefly. As part of this savoring, many kinds of animals purr, those some outside the frequency that we can hear. Purring, like making a humming sound, amplified the experience, taking it to the level of bliss. I believe it does so for us humans as well, with our pets and when we hug each other physically or mentally. Blissful humming is especially helpful for mental hugs. We need to get over feeling self-conscious or weird to get the full benefit. Remember, hugs are mutual. The deeper you let yourself go, the deeper your partner can go.

So, during this time of safe distancing when we long for touch, let’s use mental hugs. Don’t multitask with it. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Concentrate, including on how much you care for the other person or pet. Hugging involves both receiving and giving simultaneously. Focus on both parts. Welcome the feeling into your body, mind, heart and spirit. Savor it. Enjoy how good it feels. Purr and let the hug wash through you deeply and fully, mentally sharing it with your hug partner.

Spread the word. Mental hug!