Filling our time - an occupational therapy perspective
Reflecting on her experience as an occupational therapist, Sandra MacKay makes some suggestions about how we can fill our time now that daily routines have changed.
Our therapy team are working to produce further online content to support you in practical ways over the coming weeks. Please keep checking social media and our website for updates.
(Image: American Occupational Therapy Association)
Recognise this quote?
Probably not, unless you are an Occupational Therapist (any self respecting occupational therapist will recognise this as the words of American Occupational Therapist Mary Reilly)!
Why such an old quote? Bear with me....
What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational Therapy developed from the principle that as humans we have a fundamental need for activity - that we all have a need to be engaged in occupation that we believe to be meaningful and of value.
Say ‘occupation’ and people usually think ‘job/career’. I have lost count of the number of times people ask if my work is something to do with getting people back to work. Well for some occupational therapists that is the case but ’occupation’ is so much broader than paid employment - it encompasses everything from looking after ourselves (or others), household chores to how we spend our leisure time and a multitude of other things.
In fact there is a(n Occupational) science dedicated to studying the impact of occupation - or lack of it - upon our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being..... (thank you Mary Reilly for the memo). While this field of science itself may not be familiar to most people, the link between occupation and health is commonly acknowledged. People are encouraged to develop plans of how they will spend their retirement to avoid feeling depressed at their sudden loss of role within society. Prisoners are encouraged to enroll in courses or onsite jobs. Projects now exist where nursery children are brought into play with elderly residents of care homes to in a bid to improve their quality of life. Interestingly the first occupational therapists worked in long-stay psychiatric institutions, providing programmes of meaningful activities for those who were ‘excluded from society or confined’. (Creek 2007).
Activity that is meaningful and of value
Today as our nation faces the implications of a Coronavirus pandemic, many people face the prospect of indefinite periods of time in a form of exclusion or confinement known as “self-isolation”. For some this will mean spending long periods of time alone. For others it will involve figuring out how to survive being cooped up with family without fraying of nerves! Inevitably there will be pros and cons to both. Sooner or later many are likely to struggle with this disruption to their typical ‘occupational’ lives as workers, students, carers etc. During this period it will be important for people to fill their time in activities they find meaningful and of value.
Over the coming weeks myself and my colleagues will post some ideas to hopefully inspire you, or at least provide something lighter to read as a reprieve from what is currently preoccupying us. Here are a few thoughts and ideas to get started.
Decide to make lemonade!
It’s cringe but as the saying goes ‘if you get a load of lemons, learn to make lemonade’ - so unless you are unwell and fighting the effects of Covid-19, and without belittling the negative impact this time may be having on your daily life - treat this period of confinement as an opportunity to do things that you never have time to do. Admittedly this will be curtailed by finances, lack of available resources, dependency on others or indeed by time constraints due to having to care for/occupy others for longer than you feel you have energy for. But there is ALWAYS something that you can set your mind to, something to occupy your time in a way that promotes at least one aspect of your well-being. But that usually starts with a plan...
Before you put on your game face...
Take a few minutes at the start of each day - before you get out of bed or while brushing your teeth or as you wait for coffee....to make a plan. In your head. Written down. Typed as memo on your device. Spoken to carers on your Tobii. Whatever works for you. Start with one target, one thing that you want to achieve that day e.g.
- find the contact details for an old friend and dropping them a message
- browse what free audio books you can download and start listening to
- sort your wardrobe out
- make progress on the new language app you downloaded
- write or email thank you cards to people who have helped you on your way
- dig out your last Bobath therapy report....or at least the activity suggestions bit!
- get experimental in the kitchen....remember the show Ready Steady Cook with its bag of random items? Choose to make something using an ingredient you find in your cupboard that you don’t use much/never used before. Photo it and post it....whether a success or not.
- start a journal....either privately for yourself or as an online way to connect. Note how you are spending your time, record your progress at learning a new skill, review books, share a favourite quote for the day .... the list is endless
- escape the chaos of a noisy home by locking yourself in the bathroom to listen to your favourite songs for five minutes!
To yourself or to others. Set goals for what you want to work towards but also consider setting boundaries for how much time you want to spend online, on social media - particularly if this feeds any anxieties you have around this time. Set timers. Set reminders on your phone. Tell those around you what your aim is so they can encourage, facilitate or provide the occasional nag if needed. Take ownership of this time to “impact your own health”.
I’m sure Mary Relly would happily approve of us replacing “hands” with “eyes” / “voice” - whatever access method you use to interact with the world, we look forward to sharing ideas with you over the next while - and hearing from you how you have energized yourself to keep meaningfully occupied in these coming days.
Best wishes, Sandra