Long before COVID-19, a crisis was unfolding in our country. It was often hidden from view.
That pain preceded physical distancing. It affected people in every town and city before the closures of schools, the spread of uncertainty and the run on toilet paper. Now anxiety has become the new normal.
The country is already transformed. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed lives, pushed our health care system to the brink and forced nearly one million workers—almost 5 per cent of the nation’s labor force—to apply for employment insurance in just one week. The next wave could worsen Canada’s existing mental health crisis.
Stoked by fear, fed by financial uncertainty and fueled by loneliness and panic, many more Canadians will soon be struggling. Laying the groundwork for physical and mental wellness, for ourselves and others, is the most important thing each of us can do right now.
It’s easy to forget that concepts about wellness and self-care are cultural. For some, a bubble bath and some me time are enough to restore balance. For others, self-care is a collective project. I’ve been thinking of the breadth of wellness tactics a lot since the scale of the pandemic first became apparent. Specifically, I recalled a conversation with the celebrated author Monique Gray Smith. A writer and educator of Cree, Lakota and Scottish heritage, Smith opened my eyes to Indigenous teachings on wellness.
“Wellness is belonging,” Smith said. “We have an innate need to feel a part of something. When we don’t feel that belonging, the way we carry ourselves in the world is affected. To improve how we feel, we need to improve our relationship to community.”
Her insight, which is grounded in Indigenous teachings, is now echoed by non-Indigenous wellness experts who are encouraging us to reach out even while physically distant from friends and family. In the midst of this crisis, our notion of well-being has become more communal, found in our connections with others.
I believe this is the kind of self-care we all need right now. It can be tempting to shut the world out. But now is a time to invest in others. Many are discovering new ways to do this, rituals that still celebrate relationships but adapt to changing times. This can be weekly video calls with the extended family or book club chats even if no one has read the book—to drink wine and talk. Self-care has to be about more than just rest and relaxation; right now, it’s about showing up for the people around us. That is the most powerful reminder we have that we’re not alone, that we have a responsibility to our families and our wider communities.
While our physical world is being restructured, our emotional world is reeling. In these uncertain times and beyond, I hope we continue to live by Smith’s insights. We might be physically distant from each other, but need to be closer to our communities and our loved ones more than ever before.
Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.